Curbing Hockey Hooliganism

There has been much discussion lately over the so-dubbed “hockey hooligans”, the men and women who seem to get all the front page attention these days with their near-rioting antics. I’m not advocating drunken riots, heavy property damage, and abject hooliganism, but I think that a sane, non sensational (I’m talking to you, Edmonton Sun, with your completely ridiculous, sensationalist Tuesday, May 30 cover which I can’t link to because your website sucks and I wouldn’t link to your poor excuse for a paper/website anyways) look at the issue is in order.

Some background: I live in Old Strathcona. I’m on Whyte Avenue every day. The place has its flaws and its beauties, just like any other popular strip. It is the most multi faceted neighbourhood in this city. It is a beautiful shopping district with many one-of-a-kind shops. It is a mecca for panhandlers and other people from the margins. It is a place to buy organic vegetables, fruits, and local artistry and engage in a somewhat forced sense of old-world market shopping (i.e. The Old Scona Farmers Market). It is a haven for lager louts bent on destruction, pisstanks bent on getting to the bottom, woo-hoo girls, partiers, snapperheads, jackasses, well-dressed cocktail sniffers, and professional alcohol appreciators of all ages and economic brackets. It is home to E-Town’s best music stores – Blackbyrd Music and Southside Sound. It holds in its breast some of Edmonton’s best dining – Yianni’s Taverna and Chianti. And now, it is the place that Edmontonians gather to celebrate the victories of their hockey team, The Edmonton Oilers.

When the Oilers trounced the Wings, the Sharks, and the Ducks, the masses did not converge on Jasper Avenue as they did back in the 80’s when the old Oilers were bringing home the cup every few years. This time round, the celebrations occurred on Whyte Avenue – and for good reason. For better or worse, Whyte Avenue is the beating heart of this rusted, beautiful dump that we call home.

Getting down to cases.

With the Oilers recent advance to the Stanley Cup final and the resulting street party/near-riot on Saturday night, the city seems to be in a bit of a tizzy over the whole thing. A few fires were started, a phone booth got trashed, six or seven store windows were busted, and a few light standards sustained some minor damage. On Monday, photos of drunken morons standing in front of bonfires ran on the covers of both dailies. I realize that reporting the news is what these guys do, but come on, was that really necessary? Does it not just fan the flames, so to speak? Does it help solve the problem, acerbate it, or have no effect? Was there any mention of the raucous but peaceful party that happened in the hours before it turned ugly? Was there any mention of the sheer beauty of being among 30,000+ fellow citizens all spontaneously celebrating the same thing on the street? The actions of a handful of jackasses hijacked the event and it was portrayed by the media, wrongly in my opinion, as a war zone – akin to what you’d expect to see on the streets of Beirut. And I can’t brook that kind of bullshit reporting. And to those that are outraged and incensed based solely on what they have read in the papers, and not on first hand experience, I recommend that you see these things for yourself before opening your mouth.

Unquestionably, things got out of hand. Setting fires in the street (and ripping down parts of public trees for fuel) is, contrary to my personal belief on the matter, a dangerous thing. Luckily nobody was injured. This time. Speaking honestly, I see the harm in a street fire, but I’d almost advocate them. I enjoy a good street fire – as long as nobody gets hurt (and, obviously, fire and inebriated people do not mix very well, therefore, bad idea). Trashing a phone booth is pretty stupid and truth be told quite comical, but as far as I know, nobody got hurt except for the taxpayers who now have to shell out $2k for a replacement booth. By my count, about half a dozen windows were smashed. That shouldn’t have happened, but really, considering that 30,000 plus people were in attendance, most of them in some stage of inebriation, that’s not a bad result. Whyte Avenue store windows are busted on a regular basis year round (every weekend). I’m not saying it’s right, and I’m not condoning the kicking in of windows just for funsies, but it should be expected given the amount of drunken revelry, and is a realistic cost of doing business on Whyte Avenue.

On one hand, I’d like to say this: “We had a party on the street. Why? Because our team is in the show and that doesn’t happen every fucking day. It got out of hand and some shit got trashed. Nobody got seriously injured. Then we sobered up and went home. Big deal.” On the other hand, I can’t say that. People could have been hurt. Someone could have roasted in a fire. Someone could have caught a roman candle in the face. But none of that happened. And that’s the heart of my rant. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t. Why? Arguably, because the cops kept their distance and didn’t rush the crowd. They let people do what they were going to do. Some shit got trashed – and that shit is easily replaced. Everybody (save one broken ankle) went home in one piece and lived to tell the tale.

One angle of this story that really burns my ass is the issue of “tourists”, or suburbanites that flood Whyte Avenue and, arguably, cause most of this trouble. After all, I doubt residents of the area would be inclined to trash their own neighbourhood (then again, you never know). Personally, I like Todd Babiak’s idea that Oilers celebrations be moved to South Edmonton Common, a place that sorely needs a full-bore riot and some broken window mayhem.

The media should have handled this better. Report on the shitheadery, yes, but don’t paste pictures of morons and mayhem on the front cover. It’s like a red flag to a bull. It does more harm than good. It is the actions of a few that have tainted the celebrations so far and have endangered a few people. Now, of course, the EPS and the Mayor are talking tough, and plan to crack down on the shitheads. I agree with the “getting tough” action, but I think that it has to be implemented cautiously. Bust the heads of the louts, all twenty of them, not the peaceful revelers. Let the fans, fair weather or not, have their party, even if it gets a tad out of hand. After all, a party isn’t a party unless it goes a little too far. Introducing a larger, more ominous Police presence to the festivities may sound like a good idea, but it could just as easily backfire horribly. I think that the Police need to continue doing what they have been doing. Making their presence known, but staying out of the way. Making sure that nobody gets hurt and major damage isn’t done.

There are plans for public service announcements from Oilers players, urging fans to celebrate responsibly. That is a great idea, and will likely (hopefully) do much to curb the shitheadery. The EPS aren’t stupid. So far, they have handled the mayhem in an exemplary way. I’m sure that they will act judiciously and try their best to keep the party under reasonable control when the Oilers bring home Lord Stanley’s Cup.