Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Yonge Street Riot of 1992

Queen Street during the G20
Lord knows there were plenty of ignorant things said during the G20 in 2010. Among them was the suggestion that Toronto had never seen violence like that before. Pfft! Anyone who bothered to check their Google would find that our city has had riots like that on a regular basis pretty much since the day Toronto was founded. We've had Protestants riot against Catholics. Nazis riot against Jews. Conservatives riot against liberals. We've had police riot against unions, against Communists, and against firemen. We've had firemen riot against firemen. We've even had firemen riot against circus clowns. We've seen riots that brought more than 10,000 people into the streets and we've seen riots where people died. In the mid-1800s, we were averaging more than one violent riot a year for twenty years.

But our riots aren't a thing of the distant past. In the late-1980s and early '90s, we'd riot every time the Ex closed for the year. We rioted on New Year's Eve to ring in 1992. And then, a few months later, when white cops beat a black man in Los Angeles and were acquitted, we rioted again. As South Central L.A. exploded into flames and destruction, a small group in Toronto protested the Rodney King case outside the U.S. consulate on University. Soon, the crowd had swelled and some turned violent. Something like a thousand people marched up Yonge Street, smashing windows, overturning hot dog carts and generally being destructive assholes. From the footage, it looks like some were even throwing molotov cocktails.

Somehow, that time, the police managed to handle the situation without completely ignoring due process or arresting more people than ever before in the entire history of the country. There were about 30 arrests, a few injuries, and—despite the usual warnings that "we might just see the face of downtown Toronto changing forever"—things got back to normally pretty quickly. So much so that  twenty years later most people seem to have forgotten it ever happened.

Here's the Citytv coverage from the day after, complete with painfully punny titles and an adorably young Ben Chin:

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