- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
By now he could smell smoke and hear explosions. Then it was all upon him. A girl ran up, screaming that she'd been hit over the head. On the radio Rai heard a commander raise the situation to Level Three, the official designation for a riot. Rai signaled his crew: Time to don the riot gear. The equipment was blocks away in their police vans, and even after the officers got to the vehicles at the corner of Nelson and Granville, it took them some 20 minutes to change into the bulky riot gear—which with its pads and helmets, Rai noted, was not unlike hockey equipment. Meanwhile the reports went from bad to worse: Fire crews were being mobbed, shots had been fired, store windows were being smashed and people were falling off the viaduct. Mobs formed, jeering police and becoming bolder by the second.
Most in the crowd, Rai noticed, were brandishing cellphones. That's when it hit him: The violence was being filmed, en masse, in some instances by the same people doing the rioting. Later Rai would spend hours watching footage of the riots, disgusted and astonished.
From inside the safety of the Loose Moose, a bar just off the main downtown entertainment strip on Granville Street, 27-year-old Vancouver native Josh Evans, the mechanical engineer, watched as cops, now outfitted with gas masks, shields and batons, walked by, headed for the Live Site. As the police left, fights broke out on Granville and cars were overturned. Evans and his friends thought of leaving, then realized it was a bad idea. By this point there were at least 155,000 people downtown. The roads were clogged, catching a taxi was out of the question, and SkyTrain was undoubtedly packed. The best idea, they decided, was to stay put.
Not long afterward the violence escalated, leading the Moose's owner to shut the windows and lock the front door. Overhead the same TVs that had shown the game now showed images of burning cars.
In Ohio, Carrothers followed the Vancouver TV feeds with morbid fascination. He and Lewis had been wrong before—they'd expected Dallas to riot after the Mavericks won the NBA title—but this was even more unusual.
Carrothers had been concerned earlier in the day when he heard about the Live Site, a large urban gathering place that the city was actually encouraging people to swarm to. Even so, while European fans of the losing team often rioted—"providing an outlet for frustrations of a powerful nature," as author Bill Buford put it in Among the Thugs—in America losers tend to go home and mope. It was the winning fans who wanted to be part of the experience. That's what led to the vandalism: fans looking for approval from other fans. Lewis believed this was a stand-in for athletic accomplishment. Look, I might not be able to throw the football 70 yards, but I can turn over this car.
Shortly before 8:15, Rai finally reached the Live Site. Surveying the scene, he was disoriented in a way he later compared to taking an open-ice hit. In more than two decades as a cop, nothing had prepared him for the sensory overload, the sea of angry people stretching as far as he could see. To his left a garbage can burned, acrid black smoke invading his nostrils. On his right a torched vehicle sent flames into the sky. He could see a construction fence swaying, ready to go down. Whose kids are these? he wondered. What happened to the Canucks fans? What happened to Vancouver?
Then, in his earpiece, more troubling news. At 8:15 p.m., the VPD authorized the use of blast balls filled with pepper spray, usually a foolproof tactic to clear a crowd. Now Rai was hearing that the pepper spray was having no effect. Rioters were covering their faces with scarves and arming themselves with metal fence poles. The mob was too strong.
Back inside Rogers Arena, Lam was doing what he'd been instructed to do: Go wherever the Cup went. So he did, snapping hundreds of photos of the Bruins' victory celebration. At the press conference, however, he was stopped cold by what he saw on a TV in the corner. Outside, the city—his city—was in chaos.
Lam wasn't totally surprised. In '94, as a college student, he heard rumors of trouble brewing before Game 7 of the Finals. "We'll never be a big-time sports city until we have a riot," he heard people say. Now, 17 years later, it was as if the next generation wanted its own chance to prove itself. It was distressing, but to Lam, as a news photographer, it was also an opportunity. When the presser ended, he headed out.