Riots in Vancouver are the latest connected to high-profile championship sporting events
The morning after rioters made their mark on the city that he loves, Al Cyrenne made his.
Cyrenne, who lives close enough to downtown Vancouver that he could see the smoke rising from cars that vandals set aflame, made his way into the destruction zone Thursday with a push broom and a felt-tipped marker.
He spent three hours sweeping up glass and debris, then used his marker to scrawl a message on a boarded-up store window: “The real people of Vancouver are here today.”
The ugliness from the night before lingered. After the Canucks’ loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, roving crowds caused massive damage over a 10-block radius encompassing the city’s main shopping district.
“It was just a mess everywhere,” said Cyrenne, a building manager. “A lot of glass. All those outdoor potties were turned over; the guys were out there with hoses washing those down. All the plastic garbage cans were set on fire, so they all melted right to the sidewalk. It was an absolute mess.
“All over a stupid hockey game. We lost. So what?”
The scene was far from unique, as that kind of wanton vandalism has become an almost-expected byproduct of high-profile championship sporting events. Experts say it is somewhat unusual for fans in a losing team’s city to riot. It was under strikingly similar circumstances in 1994, however — the Canucks losing in the Stanley Cup finals — that Vancouver rioters caused an estimated $1.1 million in damage.
A year ago, after the Lakers beat Boston in the NBA Finals, rowdy fans spilled into the streets of downtown Los Angeles, throwing rocks, breaking windows and setting fire to at least one car. At one intersection, police fired less-than-lethal rounds at fans after they overturned a city parking enforcement vehicle and set orange fire cones ablaze.
In recent years, similar disturbances have happened in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, New York, Detroit, Montreal and Boston.
“What we know about sports riots is a lot of times they’re not caused by people who were at the arena or even saw the game,” said Rick Grieve, a psychology professor at Western Kentucky University who has studied the topic as a member of the Assn. for Applied Sports Psychology.
“Many times, the ultimate goal of the riot isn’t because of the game. There’s something else going on. The victory or loss just gives people the excuse” to cause damage or loot.
Grieve said that frequently with a large group of people, there is a “diffusion of responsibility” so that no single person feels at fault for a misdeed and a “deindividualization” that makes people more willing to go along with what everyone else is doing.
“These could be folks that weren’t part of the original group that started it but were sucked into the mob,” he said.
In many instances, alcohol plays a major role in the misbehavior, as does the frustration of watching one’s team lose.
After lighting a trash can on fire, one rioter told the Toronto Star: “This is releasing tension, man. What else are you going to do when you lose the Stanley Cup? You riot.”
The heightened stakes of the playoffs have a physical and emotional effect on fans, said Ed Hirt, a professor of psychology at Indiana University.
“Certainly we know that when tensions are high, with playoff games, people’s heart rates go up and their involvement in the action makes it an emotional situation,” Hirt told The Times in a 2009 interview. “Little things can set people off easily.”
As for the mob mentality, Hirt said: “We know that people behave differently when they feel anonymous. In a big crowd, people feel like nobody’s going to know who did what. They lose their inhibitions.”
The mayhem in Vancouver on Wednesday night was widespread, with officers in riot gear using tear gas to break up the mobs. There were reports of at least 12 stabbings, as well as falls and head injuries.
Authorities said 15 cars were set on fire — among them two police cruisers — and nine officers were injured, including one who needed 14 stitches after being hit in the head by a brick and others who were bitten.
“When a large number of criminals and anarchists have a common purpose and intent to break the law, it’s very difficult to stop that,” Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu said at a news conference. “There was a plan in place that was derived from some very expert people who have trained and studied these incidents elsewhere in the world. Despite the best efforts of many, many police agencies, including ones that have tremendously higher number of resources than we have, riots still occur.”
The Canucks released a statement Thursday thanking fans for their support and calling the postgame chaos “highly disappointing.”
“We are proud of this city we live and play in,” the statement read, “and know that the actions of these misguided individuals are not reflective of the citizens of Vancouver or any true fans of the Canucks or the game of hockey.”
Cyrenne, who spent much of the morning helping clean up the mess, would agree.
“They’re going to catch those guys, those punks,” he said. “The police got pictures of all of them, and they’re going to get them.”
Times staff writer David Wharton contributed to this report.
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