Santa Maria Sun / Canary
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 5
Fight for your riot to party?
My editor is fond of a quote from author Bill Buford, who, in writing about violence among British football hooligans, said, “The crowd is not us. It never is.” I’ve heard my editor say it around the office before, but it never really struck home until I started reading reports of what happened in Isla Vista over Spring Break.
A massive annual party known as Deltopia draws hordes of young people to South County streets already drenched with a reputation for wild abandon. And you thought it was just urine and vomit.
This year, according to reports both local and national, an arrest in the midst of the action triggered a swell of outrage and ill will against the law-enforcement agents present, leading to officers and deputies being pelted with projectiles. Predictably, this led to fires, stop signs wrenched from their moorings, and cars being vandalized. Oh, and a healthy number of arrests, as well as rubber bullets and tear gas and the like.
I say “predictably,” because I’ve seen this before. The first comparison that came to my mind was the Mardi Gras riot that rattled nearby San Luis Obispo in 2004. If my memory serves, that was an annual party that drew students from all corners of the state—and beyond—which eventually bloomed into a massive street fight that involved revelers pelting officers with projectiles, arrests, rubber bullets, etc.
Why does this happen?
The go-to reaction seems to be pointing a finger at everyone else.
A Los Angeles Fox affiliate quoted Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Kelly Hoover as saying “Deltopia attracts out-of-towners who come in and are not invested in our community, and there are some who come to cause trouble.”
That may be true. Actually, it has to be. Some estimates pegged the crowd at 15,000 people strong.
This “crowd is not us” mentality is wrong. First, and most broadly, we are all humans. Well, you are. I am, of course, a canary, but you get what I’m saying. Humanity is not something that should just switch off as anonymity switches on. That happens—it happens all the time—but it shouldn’t.
The idea that someone would cause trouble simply because he’s not in his hometown is a bit reductive, I think. Riots happen everywhere, and they’re triggered by a variety of causes, but the aggression turning into action is not so much due to a lack of hometown pride as it is a lack of respect for all property, health, and even life in general. The sort of person who would throw a brick at a police officer would do so in any crowd, I believe, whether it was on the opposite coast or less than a mile from where he was born.
Or she was born. They weren’t all men in that melee.
I’ve seen riots led by locals, against locals. I’ve seen them in the Bay Area, and in Los Angeles. The initial trigger seems to be some sort of injustice—like, say, the shooting death of a young person—or perceived injustice—like, say, the failure of a particular sports team to triumph over another, or efforts by a police officer to actually enforce the law.
Then, when the first rock arcs through the air to draw blood from a forehead or ear, when the first bottle glances off someone’s temple to leave a bruise and break amid bystanders’ feet, a line is crossed. It’s like the sound of shattering glass or the sight of blood signals that it’s now OK to vent every pent-up frustration, avenge every slight, push back against every leaning of authority.
That is not a regional anomaly. It doesn’t arrive in an otherwise peaceful town on the backs of edgy tourists and fist-clenching frat boys. They may be carriers, sure, but they’re not polluting a pristine environment. These people exist everywhere. It’s the numbers that matter.
When a group of people grows to the point at which individual identities are easily obscured, the idea of anonymity amid the masses strips away inhibitions that would otherwise stand under society’s spotlight. If nobody can see you, can pick you out of a crowd, why not lob a brick toward the people in uniform? Why not key the car as you run by, surrounded by dozens, hundreds—thousands—of other people running by, all of whom have keys, all of whom could be you?
Why not embrace the chaos?
You’ve seen this in action more often than you may realize. The sort of anonymity afforded by the masses gives a powerful push to people who would otherwise stay silent and sane. Just look anywhere on the Internet, really. Comment boards are littered with hateful words, death threats, sexual aggression, spite, and seemingly random attacks.
It’s because the Web is the crowd. You could be anyone lobbing that threat from out of the masses. “Good luck catching me!” Sure, a dozen or two will get caught, but the herd, the school, the mass will survive.
For good and for ill.
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