COVER

ANATOMY OF A RIOT

A PROTEST DEGENERATES INTO VIOLENCE

JAMES DEACON,DIANE BRADY May 18 1992
COVER

ANATOMY OF A RIOT

A PROTEST DEGENERATES INTO VIOLENCE

JAMES DEACON,DIANE BRADY May 18 1992

ANATOMY OF A RIOT

COVER

A PROTEST DEGENERATES INTO VIOLENCE

It began as a peaceful, multiracial demonstration to protest police violence against blacks in Los Angeles and Toronto. About 500 people, some pushing children in strollers, gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in downtown Toronto to denounce racism.

Three hours later, the demonstration exploded into an ugly rampage that convulsed a narrow corridor of the downtown area for almost four hours. Youths—many of them whites who had played no part in the earlier protest demonstration— smashed scores of storefront windows with bricks, garbage cans and bottles.

Others looted stores, grabbing clothing, jewelry and electronic equipment.

When lines of foot police and officers on horseback confronted the crowd, some rioters hurled rocks and debris.

Several people incurred injuries, ranging from a broken arm to head wounds, and two policemen were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Dudley Laws, 57, a founder of Toronto’s Black Action Defence Committee, claimed that the outburst was an extension of the frustration black Torontonians feel about racism, particularly among the city’s predominantly white police force. Others, including Ontario Premier Bob Rae, suggested that the violence was mainly the work of hooligans who exploited the protest demonstration for their own ends. Indeed, many of the original demonstrators had left by the time violence broke out. In their place were segments of the city’s disaffected youth, including skinheads and street kids. A chronology of Toronto’s night of violence:

4 p.m.: About 500 people, nearly half of them white, gather outside the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue for a scheduled rally to protest against, among other things, the acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the Rodney King beating and the fatal May 2 shooting of a young black drug suspect in Toronto.

4:35: Five or six young white men arrive in front of the consulate bearing a sign reading, “We denounce the racist murders of whites.” A young black knocks the sign down, and a shoving match begins. The sign-wavers run off, but one is cornered by angry protesters. Police officers intervene to prevent any violence. 5:30: Marching to the intersection of Yonge

and Bloor streets, the protesters listen to more speeches. Occasionally, speakers and demonstrators taunt police officers on the scene.

6:15: Organizers lead the demonstrators south, heading for city hall on Queen Street. Groups of youths who haunt Yonge Street join the march. A few marchers throw the first rocks, breaking store windows.

6:45: Outside city hall, some protesters hurl rocks, bottles and horse manure at mounted

police who are trying to keep the crowd away from the main entrance. No civic politicians speak to the demonstrators.

7:10: The crowd, which now has swelled to about 1,000 people, flows back to Yonge Street and the rampage begins. Some marchers overturn street-comer hotdog carts, while others smash windows with bottles taken from garbage cans. Youths start kicking in dozens of store windows and grabbing cigarettes, jewel-

ry, jeans, stereo equipment and other goods.

7:40: At Yonge and Wellesley streets, a policeman stands by the demolished storefront of Nick’s Sport Shop, which sells firearms, asking people to move away. Two shotguns are stolen, but they are later retrieved by police. Nearby, broken glass and hundreds of packages of cigarettes cover the sidewalk in front of a smashed convenience-store window. Occasionally, passers-by stoop to pick up packages

of cigarettes. Youths grab almost the entire window display from a store selling the heavy Dr. Martens brand of shoes and other skinhead paraphernalia. Some stores’ merchandise is left untouched, even after the glass is smashed.

8:35: One policeman, separated from his colleagues, is jostled in a mainly black crowd at Bay and Charles. But three black youths escort the dishevelled and hatless officer through the tightly packed crowd to safety. One black

s teenager yells: “Let’s beat up a reporter.” He ^ cheers as another youth kicks in the window of a bankrupt restaurant. A woman taunts police 3 officers, shouting: “They shoot them, then £ they plant drugs on them.” The crowd cheers “ as a brick flies through the air and cracks the windshield of a police car.

8:45: Along Yonge Street, a few merchants are already starting to clean up, but sporadic vandalism continues. In a store doorway, a black woman declares that anger had been building in the black community for a long time. “They’ve been shaking the Coke bottle too long,” she says. “Sooner or later, the bottle had to explode all over the place.”

8:55: At Yonge and Charles, a black woman screams at a white television cameraman: “Pure lies, that’s all I get from you people. How come you guys never show up except when black people are in trouble?” Nearby, black activist Laws is urging people to go home.

9:10: On Charles just east of Yonge, a 46year-old white man, Ivan Boyes, is arguing with a black youth. Boyes says that the riot will harm the black community. The black youth says that violence is the only way to draw attention to the problem of racism. Bystanders urge the two to calm down, but Boyes persists. Suddenly, six youths wearing bandanas over their faces and wielding sawed-off hockey sticks arrive on the scene. One tries to strike Boyes, but the surging crowd deflects the blow. Members of the crowd urge Boyes to leave. Seconds later, the attacker lunges into the crowd and hits Boyes on the head with a club. Bleeding, Boyes is hustled away by a black

couple as the gang threatens other whites nearby. Someone tries unsuccessfully to unmask the light-skinned assailant.

9:15: The same gang of toughs chases a white youth along Charles Street. The youth eludes his pursuers, who turn on Toronto Globe and Mail reporter Sean O’Malley, kicking him repeatedly before bystanders intervene. The masked youths then challenge three white men walking past an apartment building half a block east of Yonge. A few punches are exchanged before the men escape into the building.

10:00: In a supermarket parking lot off Yonge Street two blocks north of Bloor, 12 mounted police officers and others on foot gather to disperse the crowd. A bottle thrown from the mob hits a TV reporter hard on the head. About 15 minutes later, a Molotov cocktail—a flaming bottle of gasoline or solvent—is launched from the crowd into the street. People scatter, but the missile bums out in seconds and there are no injuries. With that, a policeman yells, “Charge!” and the line of police starts pushing the crowd, including press photographers, away from Yonge. An officer rips the flash off Maclean’s Photo Editor Peter Bregg’s camera and punches him in the ribs.

Midnight: The streets quiet and almost deserted, an officer among the police standing guard at Yonge and Dundas asks: “When are they going to let us go for coffee?”

JAMES DEACON with DIANE BRADY,

JOE CHIDLEY

JOHN DALY

PAUL KAIHLA

MARY NEMETH

LAAS TURNBULL