Of Riots and Consequences

“What I did was dumb,” he said. “I have let my family and friends down, and I will face the consequences and take responsibility for my actions.”

That is what 17-year-old Nathan Kotylak, Canadian junior national water polo player, told the media after he was caught on camera trying to light a police car on fire by holding a lit shirt to its gas tank during the riot that followed Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, which the Vancouver Canucks lost. It was a classic us-them, us-against-the-cops, action.

When I first heard of the riot, I discounted the self-interested opinings of the Vancouver Mayor and Police Chief that these were anarachists and thugs who rioted. It seemed to me that after a hockey game, it was more likely drunk young people who had seldom faced a consequence in their life, who with a quick apology or excuse had weaseled out of consequences for bad behaviour before. Too often, good athletes, boys, or young men are given a pass, people saying, "oh, it's just high spirits," or "boys will be boys," or "the team won't get the championship if you take him off, it's only a 'D' or he didn't mean to hurt the guy." And as a corollary to that I see an awful lot of cheering of non-achievements -- because you gotta make children feel good about themselves and you can't have "losers" -- that tells children and teens you don't have to strive to receive praise, and so praise becomes background noise, meaningless. And once it becomes meaningless, then so does the censure of society and family. The emotion of the moment, self-gratification with no thought to the future or to those in their way to feeling good, becomes paramount. Mob mentality follows swiftly, whether its a mob of thousands or of three.

Because he was outed or because his family was outraged or because a sense of shame finally triumphed over feeling good or because of all three, Kotylak stepped up to the plate and took the consequences. He didn't try to sidestep them or make excuses or use the law to save himself or give the political apology of seeming to apologise whilst not. No, he owned up to what he did. That should've earned him forgiveness, that is, not forgetting what he did, but an acceptance of his apology as a sincere one.

But the mob mentality of feeling good had not yet subsided in Vancouver. This time the feeling good stems from self-righteousness not drunkenness or physical expression. Self-righteousness will not be satiated by mere repentance. It wants blood.

And so Vancouver continues to lose, for Vancouverites' sane, immediate condemnation of the riot and the unthinking in-the-moment actions of rioters like Kotylak has morphed into an emotional riot as violent as the one on the streets.

"Though the teen, a noted water-polo athlete, has not been charged by police, [family lawyer Bart] Findlay said the family has been the target of serious harassment and threats that has left them afraid to stay in their home.

'A lot of nasty things have come through on social networks,' he said. 'Things like their home address posted, and people saying they’re going to come over and pay [Kotylak] a visit.'" (Sean Sullivan, The Province, Reprinted in The Calgary Herald, June 19, 2011)

Isn't that lovely.

Although the photograph of Kotylak seems to say the opposite, the police have so far determined that Kotylak was not the person responsible for setting the police car on fire. According to media reports and what the photographer has said, the fire was started inside the police car, not through the gas tank. So the photograph deceives; it tells only part of the story. But it feels good to go after Kotylak, a visible target, so that the world will know that Vancouverites are not like him. They don't riot. They don't set police cars on fire. This is not Vancouver.

But it is. They have rioted -- against the rioters. They have set hate on fire -- against Kotylak and his innocent family. This is Vancouver, as it is showing itself to the world: Self-righteous, emotional, indulging in us-them mentality -- unthinking of consequences.