Vancouver fans riot for the most pathetic reasons. They're like a collective child that throws a tantrum when it doesn't get everything that it wants. Forget that in 1994 they rioted because the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In 2002 Vancouver fans rioted when Guns n' Roses cancelled their Vancouver stop on their Chinese Democracy tour.
And Chinese Democracy wasn't even a good album.
When I decided to stay in Vancouver for game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I figured that if we won, there might be a riot, but if we lost, there would almost certainly be one. I wasn't alone. People starting discussing a riot on Twitter before the game even ended.
I watched the game in my cousin's apartment across from Rogers Arena. After the game we stood on the balcony watching fans leave the stadium. A few minutes later there was a scream and we saw a crowed gather in front of the ticket window, but we couldn't see the reason. A moment later I read on Twitter that a car was burning on Georgia Street just a few blocks from my cousin's apartment, so I grabbed my camera and headed out.
As I walked away from the stadium I heard a young man on a cell phone. He was talking about a man who had fallen off the overpass that runs past the stadium.
"He fell like 80 or 90 feet." The young man told me. "He wasn't dead, but had broken bones and blood was everywhere. It was freaky." That was the incident we had seen from my cousin's balcony.
When I found the burning car, the street was chaotic. The police had not yet arrived. One charred car had been overturned and people were standing on it. A crowd of hundreds more surrounded the burning automobile. Once in a while there would be a small explosion in the car and everyone would move back for a moment, before crowding around it again.
The atmosphere was that of an oversized, overly aggressive street party. The only people who weren't invited were the police and Boston Bruins fans. If you didn't belong to either of those groups people were quite civil. When I was looking at the overturned car trying to figure out how to get on top of it to take pictures, a teenager saw me.
"You have a camera?" He asked me. Then he turned to his friend. "Hey, move over." He told him. "This guy needs to get up here." And then extended his hand to me.
People were posing for photos in front of the burning car, shouting, joking, and running around waving flags. One man was interviewing all the most active rioters with a voice recorder for his YouTube channel.
Eventually the police came and started moving down the street pushing the rioters back. I told them I was press and asked them to let me behind their lines, but they refused. Instead they began moving forward. One of them shoved me. His hands left streaks of yellow pepper spray on my arms. They began to burn.
I spent a lot of time standing in the no-man's land between the rioters and police, shooting both sides. The rioters respected me as a comrade, and the police respected me as a journalist. Police quite obviously aimed their rubber bullets around me, and rioters lobbed their bottles and rocks at the police over me. It was surprisingly safe. When I moved off to the side a young man with a very large camera asked me if I was a journalist.
"Yes I am."
"I'm in journalism school." He told me.
"You're in the right place then."
"My eyes are burning. I think I'm allergic to something."
"That would be the tear gas."
Two canisters had just landed nearby.
I don't want to give the wrong impression about the police. They were quite patient. They did not shove me (much) when I walked right beside them shooting their line as it pushed down the street. Once, when I had my bag open on the ground to change camera lenses they actually walked right past me, not pushing me with the crowd. They fired several flash-bangs to scare people (there is a hilarious video of a rioter getting hit in the groin with one here), but used very little tear gas. They also shot few rubber bullets, but they did nail one guy standing beside me right in the groin.
Not long after the police had pushed the crowd away from the burning car people began running into an adjoining parking lot. They had found two unattended police cruisers. They began tearing them apart. They flipped one onto its side, and then pushed it back onto its wheels so they could jump on the roof some more. As rioters began trying to flip the second car a 30-something hippy-looking woman climbed on top of it and sat cross-legged flashing peace signs to the crowd.
She sat there for about 20 minutes. Nobody tried to move her or the car. Nobody even cursed her. Instead the crowd started chanting, "Show your tits," as though it was Mardi Gras. The hippy woman, of course, did not show her tits, so this girl jumped on the car and obliged the crowd.
I climbed onto the other police car to photograph this woman. As I stood on the hood of the car, a man with a handkerchief tied around his face was hammering its hood with a piece of wood. He aimed his swings carefully to avoid hitting my feet as I moved around.
It was a decidedly polite riot.
As I stood on the car in the spotlight of the police helicopter that was now circling overhead, a short man shouted at me, "Get off of there."
"Why?" I asked. The car was already trashed. I wasn't hurting it.
"This is my city." He screamed, red-faced.
"This is my city too."
"If you don't get off of that car I will drag you off."
"I would like to see you try that."
He could not have done it. He was at least a head shorter than me.
In response the man began running around the cars frantically screaming "peace" at the rioters. A couple of minutes later I saw several rioters chasing the man through the crowd. I jumped off the car and grabbed one of them by the shirt and stopped him. He looked at me for a moment and then simply walked away. He didn't even seem angry about it. He seemed to implicitly accept that the guy didn't deserve to be beat up.
Then I heard a loud bang and felt a sharp pain in my forearm. There was a black streak across it. I'm not sure what it was that hit me, but it was most likely a rubber bullet.
The police had arrived, and I had enough pictures for any stories I would write, so I returned to my cousin's apartment. The mood there was somber. We were embarrassed by our city -- a city that we were normally very proud to live in.
These kids (and they were mostly kids) rioted for no good reason. They chanted, "Fuck the police" because they had heard it in rap songs, but they had no reason to hate the police. The police in Vancouver have a good reputation. These kids are not underprivileged. Many of them are very well off. They do, after all, live in a city that consistently ranked as having the best quality of life in the world.
They had nothing to be angry about. They rioted for the sake of rioting. It was pathetic.
As I lay on my cousin's couch that night, arms still burning, reading about the riots online, I came across one photo online that summarized my feelings about it very well. That picture can be seen here.
I also shot 1200 pictures during the riots. Check out my top 16 pictures in this photo gallery.