The Yonge Street Riot of 1992 was a response from the public to racism and police brutality. It was an afternoon of rioting and protest that took place in downtown Toronto. This event was organized by the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), which was initially projected to protest the acquittal of four white police officers in Los Angeles for the videotaped beating of Rodney King (The Toronto Star 2005). It also took more significance after a 22-year old black man, Raymond Constantine Lawrence, was shot twice in the chest by a police officer two days earlier. The shooting of Raymond Lawrence was the eighth police shooting of a black person in Toronto since August 1988 (Lawton 1992).
On May 4th, 1992, protestors gathered in front of the US consulate in a peaceful demonstration, which soon flared and took a turn for the worst. Although the protestors had assured that it would be a peaceful demonstration, the gathering turned into something that turned out to be the complete opposite. “Police were pelted with rocks and eggs, hundreds of windows were smashed, stores were looted, cars were vandalized, and vending carts were overturned”(Edmonton Journal 1992: 1). The group consisted of mainly Blacks but it did not take long for it to grow with the addition of some Whites, which created a strong mob. There were about 1,000 people gathered outside of the University avenue consulate showing their resentment to police officers and the state. In this group, there were about 200-300 people who were ready to vandalize and steal whatever they could get their hands on (Duffy, Hall, and Demara 1992).
The first act of violence erupted when the protestors moved south on Yonge on their way to City Hall. At this point, the police were being attacked and windows were being smashed. The crowd made its way back up Yonge Street while breaking windows, looting stores, vandalizing, charging at the police and fighting. After reaching Bloor Street, the crowd travelled west to Bay Street and then south to St. Marys. At this time, there was a wall of police at St. Mary’s in an attempt to stop the protestors. The police were stormed a number of times by the protestors before the crowd continued to move south towards Bay, east along Bloor, and north along Yonge. At Cumberland, a large force of police were finally able to disperse the remainder of the crowd (Duffy, Hall, and Demara 1992).
As a result of this occasion, about 30 people had been arrested and several horses and officers were slightly injured by rock throwing (Welsch 1992). There was an enormous amount of damage done to the city as a result of the window breaking and vandalizing. This also created a sense of fear because not many people believed that something so violent like this would not happen in Canada. This event mirrors the riot that occurred in Los Angeles, although the damage and violence that occurred there was much worse. In LA, 58 people were killed and it caused more than $700 million in damages (Lawton 1992). A situation like this makes us question why citizens of a particular society find it necessary to engage in these activities. It also raises the issue of why people feel the need to go against the state using such extreme levels to have their voices heard.
Duffy, Andrew, Hall, Joseph, & Demara, Bruce. 1992. “Metro Police, Mob Clash on Yonge St.” The Toronto Star, May 5, Retrieved October 15, 2012 (http://micromedia.pagesofthepast.ca/PageView.asp)
Edmonton Journal. 1992. “Toronto Protest Flares into a Riot.” Edmonton Journal, May 5. Retrieved October 15, 2012 (http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/).
The Toronto Star. 2005. “May 4, 1992 Yonge St. Riot.” Toronto Star, Aug. 27, Retrieved October 15, 2012 (http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/).
Lawton, Valerie. 1992. “Racism Protestors Turn to Looting.” The Vancouver Sun, May 5, Retrieved October 15, 2012 (http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/).
Welsh, Moira. 1992. “Authorities Were Expecting Peaceful Demonstration.” The Toronto Star, May 5, Retrieved October 15, 2012 (http://micromedia.pagesofthepast.ca/PageView.asp).