By Frank Moher
Memo to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu: idiots and anarchists are two different things. I know being a political scientist isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a cop, not even the top cop, but playing the “anarchist” card last week, as you did in defending your force’s handling of the Stanley Cup riot, was not only unseemly but dumb — at least as dumb as some of what went on the day before.
“Even with those assets in place,” you told a news conference on Thursday, apparently referring to the many Vancouverites who assisted in deterring the rioters, “our city was vulnerable to a number of young men and women, disguised as Canucks fans, who were actually criminals and anarchists.” And then you held up for dramatic effect . . . a mask! Unfortunately for your purposes it didn’t have “Official Anarchist Mask” written on it — instead, it had some kind of skull thing happening — but apparently we were meant to take this as proof that those nasty Bolsheviks who’d smashed some windows in the run-up to the Olympics were back.
The problem is, Police Chief Chu, that wearing a mask and smashing things doesn’t make someone an anarchist — it makes them a vandal. Anarchism is a coherent political philosophy that actually has more to do with organizing at the most local level possible than it does with breaking stuff, though there is, of course, a wing of it that believes property violence is, under certain circumstances and within clear limitations, necessary and acceptable. Whatever you may think of that, those few anarchists who are occasionally violent do what they do with a political purpose. But there was no political purpose behind the vandalism in Vancouver last Wednesday — just a lot of beer.
“These were people who came equipped with masks, goggles, and gasoline — even fire extinguishers that they would use as weapons,” you said. But that doesn’t make them anarchists either — it just makes them well-organized hoodlums. No, not the same thing. “We recognized some of those same criminals among them as those who took part in the vandalism during the Winter Olympics,” you added. But even if some of the same people were involved — and I guess we’ll have to take your word for that — they weren’t acting as anarchists this time. There is absolutely no political argument to be made for smashing the windows of The Bay because the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup. They were just being morons. Or criminals. Or moronic criminals, take your pick.
But not anarchists. As Garth Mullins, one of the organizers of last year’s Olympic protests, told The Tyee: “If anarchists are attending an event where there’s going to be a police crackdown, you bring legal observers, you bring medics, you use your cell phone for communication, not for taking photos of yourself and putting them on Facebook.”
Now, I actually thought your department reacted with smarts and restraint to the riot, Chief Chu. Maybe that had something to do with not having enough cops available for the size of the crowd that showed up — maybe you wouldn’t have acted with restraint, given your druthers — but if the result was to keep the head bashing to a minimum, that’s just as well. I realize I might not feel that way if I was one of the business owners whose premises got ransacked, but as you said yourself, “With apologies to business owners who became the victims of these criminals, our plan and our priority must always be the safety of the public over the safety of builings and property.”
The funny thing is, even the most radical anarchists would draw the same distinction, between violence to property and violence to people. Maybe you have more in common with them than you know. In any event, please choose your words more carefully in future. It would be nice to think the Vancouver Police Chief understands the difference between ideology and plain old hooliganism.