Frances Bula header image 2

Why I was a rioter

July 2nd, 2011 · 23 Comments

I realize that the riot is two weeks old now and that, for lack of other news, it’s been analyzed to pieces but a small personal perspective on why young people participate.

I was in a small riot in Paris many years ago, when I was a student there. It was on New Year’s Eve, in the Latin Quarter where all the students were. At first, we were in what seemed like a fun, spontaneous street celebration with loads of slightly tipsy young people roaming the streets. One girl went up to a proper French policeman directing traffic and kissed him on the cheek in the middle of the mild chaos.

But it escalated into something more somewhere after midnight. At some point, we suddenly found ourselves running through the streets with the rest of the crowd, as riot police chased us and fired off some rounds of tear gas. We saw kids being bundled up and hauled off in police vans. There might even have been a few fires. And why we did we hang around, running up and down the streets, refusing to leave?

It was fun. All the rules seemed to be suspended and it was somehow thrilling to be playing hide and seek with the cops, sprinting through the streets as they tried helplessly to catch up with us, then gathering somewhere else, only to do it again. We had no sense of what was happening in various parts of the neighbourhood– maybe serious vandalism. But for us, it was just a game where the anonymous cops, people you normally had to be wary of, were suddenly just silly cats to our silly mice.

Would I have felt differently if people had started breaking windows and stealing things? I’d like to imagine that perhaps a more sober inner adult would have emerged, but I’m not so sure. I was 24 and still at the super-clueless stage of my life, doing any number of stupid things that thankfully weren’t then recorded on Facebook or YouTube.

Nor even in the Paris newspapers. I looked the next day for some account of this major brawl between crowds of young people and the riot police, which in Vancouver, even then (1978) would have surely received screaming, World War Two headlines. But there was nothing, not even a brief item. For them, it was just part of what happens in a big city, not even worth noting.

Categories: Uncategorized