Time for lessons in urban mob temptations

If more North Americans are going to live in dense urban areas–and celebrate together–there are some good lessons and insights to take away from the Vancouver riots.  I’m not talking about lessons in policing (I’m sure those will come), but lessons about appropriate behavior in large crowds in the 21st century, and the dynamic of crowd-sourced evidence gathering.

Behavior in large crowds:

Clearly, a lot of young people were not prepared to make appropriate decisions when faced with the challenging situation of a large crowd, disappointment over the hockey game, and some determined trouble makers–as well as the temptation to stay and watch or even participate.

A lot of people with no prior criminal histories got caught up in the moment and others wouldn’t get out of the way, instead hanging around filming or just watching. As mentioned in a previous post, many of them were recent high school grads all primed for craziness because it was grad week.  They came downtown hearing there might be a repeat of the 1994 riot. They didn’t think of the consequences.Three lessons here:

1. This could have happened anywhere you had a large crowd suddenly swelled by a large number of 17-18 year olds (esp. teenaged men) hyped up with grad.

2. This isn’t some exceptional generation clash or a sign that today’s 17-20 year-olds are somehow more angry on alienated that teens of the past.  I don’t know too many people who can honestly say they never got caught up in something rebellious when they were 18 +/- (smoked, drank, graffiti, minor shop lifting, steeling a street sign, skipping school for a day, joined a protest, etc).  In Vancouver hundreds feeling rebellious all ended  up in the same place at the same time–when everyone was saying there was going to be a riot.

3. Most important: Everyone needs some education on mob behavior in the 21st century–both what not to do, and what to expect.

Throughout history “large crowds” have been able to act to bring down governments or express displeasure.  Or, groups of people have rioted simple to release some energy.  By being part of a crowd, there has traditionally been safety in numbers but also anonymity. There is nothing particularly exceptional that a crowd got out of hand in Vancouver on June 15. What was different was that it was all caught on about a thousand different cameras by participants and witnesses.  The police have over 1 million images of the rioters and looters.

As more people live in urban areas, and urban spaces are taken from cars and given to people for special events (as happened in Vancouver), all citizens will need to be educated on mob behavior 21st century style.

Think of it like drinking and driving education.  Friends who parent kids in their late-teens or early 20s are all impressed at how determined these kids are to not drink and drive. The message has been loud and clear.  And even for seasoned adults, people of all ages today typically plan ahead (to a much greater degree than in the past) and incidents of drinking and driving is way down. We’ve all been educated as to the consequences and to avoid the temptation.

Acceptable behavior in a large crowd needs to be taught.  One lesson for young people is that you may be tempted to join in anti-social or criminal behavior when others are doing it–but don’t.  The long term consequences are too great (as they are with drinking and driving).  You will be caught in photos and video, whether people’s iPhones or HD surveillance video.  You could be charged by police, but even if you avoid that, everyone will know what you did.  The young Vancouver rioters face having their name on a permanent list that will forever be on the internet of those who looted stores or burned cars.

Another lesson in being in large urban crowds is that when the police say “this is now an unlawful assembly; you must dispurse” – it means “go home now!”  The tear gas or pepper spray or rubber bullets are coming. Too many young people didn’t seem to understand that they needed to get out of the way and let the police do their job.  The riot kissers were an example–they were not rioting or looting, but they were blocking the way of the anti-riot police.

No one should ever forget how many peaceful parties with 50,000 to 100,000 or more Vancouver has hosted over the past decade–I can think of dozens in just the past 18 months.  Almost every other time all has gone well–fun family events.  But when things start to unravel, as they did on June 15, 2011, a better prepared crowd would have made a huge difference–a crowd trained to resist temptation and to recognize when to clear out.

One comment

  1. [...] Waters, who blogs at All About Cities, wrote a post about the fallout from the Vancouver riot called “Time for lessons in urban mob [...]

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