Reflections on Vancouver’s riot

Having had a day now to process the riot that followed Wednesday’s Canucks game, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

For those of us who have witnessed violence first-hand, or those who just experienced it for the first time, watching the riot unfold was difficult.  I think of a colleague at work whose son-in-law took his 6 year old son to the game and was caught in the chaos trying to leave.  This little boy was shocked by what he saw because all his life whenever he was inadvertently exposed to violence (walking in on his parents watching a movie for example), he was told “it’s just a movie”.  I told my daughter that for years when she was too young to be told the truth.  For that little boy, the “it’s just a movie” explanation will no longer suffice.

Experts and leaders are all offering insights into the why and the how of the rioting and many different viewpoints have been expressed.   But I would like to acknowledge how these riots have triggered those in our community for whom violence has been a regular part of their life.  A friend of mine grew up in a part of the world where rioting and violence were a regular occurrence.  Seeing her city erupt into violent rioting was a flashback to a painful time in her life and she tearfully expressed: “I never thought I would see this in Vancouver”.   

Having had a day now to process the riot that followed Wednesday’s Canucks game, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

For those of us who have witnessed violence first-hand, or those who just experienced it for the first time, watching the riot unfold was difficult.  I think of a colleague at work whose son-in-law took his 6 year old son to the game and was caught in the chaos trying to leave.  This little boy was shocked by what he saw because all his life whenever he was inadvertently exposed to violence (walking in on his parents watching a movie for example), he was told “it’s just a movie”.  I told my daughter that for years when she was too young to be told the truth.  For that little boy, the “it’s just a movie” explanation will no longer suffice.

Experts and leaders are all offering insights into the why and the how of the rioting and many different viewpoints have been expressed.   But I would like to acknowledge how these riots have triggered those in our community for whom violence has been a regular part of their life.  A friend of mine grew up in a part of the world where rioting and violence were a regular occurrence.  Seeing her city erupt into violent rioting was a flashback to a painful time in her life and she tearfully expressed: “I never thought I would see this in Vancouver”.   

For our youth, many of whom were both victims of and witnesses to violence growing up, the riot on Wednesday exposed their vulnerability in a way they couldn’t have expected:  that’s how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) works;  it sneaks up on you and catches you by surprise.  I was so touched yesterday when I heard that the shelter team leader told the youth workers to “get out on the floor, be with the youth”, many of whom were shell-shocked, sitting silently, hurting from what they had seen and triggered mentally and physically by the violence.  I felt a motherly surge of affection for our youth and felt so grateful that they had a safe place in which to come home.

Often people who are experiencing PTSD don’t understand what is happening; they only know that they don’t feel well.  It is a difficult condition to explain, one that can be triggered by a sight, sound or smell.  Sometimes the body remembers what the mind has blocked out.  Exposure to violence of the magnitude of which occurred on Wednesday rocks us to the core. 

To all of us who witnessed the violence on Wednesday, I say this:  acknowledge the horror of what we saw, honour how you feel about it and try to replenish yourself by absorbing the wonderful spirit of the city made possible by the thousands of people who rallied to clean up downtown, who have sent positive words to the VPD and who are reclaiming the civility we hold dear.