Analysis of the Representations of the Yonge Street Riot (1992)

The Yonge Street Riot of 1992 emerged as a movement towards anti-racism. However, according to media representations of the event, it went from being a peaceful demonstration to being an act of violence, smashing, and a vandalism rampage. When reading about the riot or even watching news clips, the first impression the viewer receives is the amount of violence and ‘hooliganism’ that occurred. In a news article by Sean O’Malley, he speaks about his experience from the riot where he was brutally beaten. O’Malley is a news reporter who was kicked and beaten over and over again by those part of the riot until he could finally turn around and run for his life (O’Malley 1992). He was trying to obtain information from participants when he was attacked. Jack Lakey in his articles begins by stating “It was a mob scene like Toronto had never seen” (Lakey 1992: 1). This article begins by emphasizing all the negative instances that occurred from the riot and called the reason for the protest an excuse. Lakey states, right at the beginning of his article, “as many as a thousand young people roaming the downtown core in a fuming seething sea of humanity, smashing store windows, punching passerbys, and helping themselves from everything to tuxedos to pastries” (Lakey 1992: 1).

These articles emphasize the violence frame outlined in the article by BoyKoff (2007), “Mass Media Deprecation”. The main focus of these representations of the riot center around the violence that occurred. They vaguely mention or not mention at all the reason for the riot because the main focus revolves around the violence. Jack Lakey – a reporter – even calls it an excuse for what happened that day. An article in the Vancouver Sun also only outlined the stealing, vandalism, and harm that were posed to other people. “Windows started smashing, and products started going out the windows. At least one vehicle was reported set afire and a fire bomb was tossed at a supermarket” (Vancouver Sun 1992: 1). Mays (1992) also speaks of the violence that occurred: “An angry rampage of trashing cars and looting shops, with the hooligans fighting the police, bystanders, and it seems, each other” (1). Although the event turned violent, it started off as a peaceful demonstration and remained peaceful for a long period of time. This is not stated in many news coverage articles. The articles begin with the violent representations of the protest and build upon this notion so it is the only factor that is recognized. Furthermore, there is no rationale given for the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), who were the organizers for the peaceful protest that first took place. There was no mention of the purpose of the protest that was initially organized by the BADC – they were not given any credit for the main purpose of the protest. Their main goal was to gain awareness of police brutality and racism, which is hardly mentioned in any news coverage. This protest only consisted of approximately 200 people and the group started to double in numbers because of others who decided to join the protest. This is something the BADC did not have control over as well as the violence phase the erupted shortly after the escalation of the group. The BADC did promise a peaceful demonstration and it is not mentioned in any news coverage that the blame should not solely be put on them for the aftermath of the riot.

Another frame that was repeatedly demonstrated in the news coverage of the riot is the Freak Frame (Boykoff 2007). All of the protestors portrayed during this demonstration seem to be mainly Blacks and a few Whites. A majority of the portrayed protestors were young and seen as thugs or criminals. Henry Stancu and Andrew Duffy (1992) state, “Hooligans will never be allowed to take over city streets” (1). Thomas Walkom (1992) states, “the charge of hooliganism is correct” (5). Walkom begins by identifying  this term in regards to labelling the protestors. He then further elaborates by saying that labelling these people as hooligans is something that is easy to do, therefore, more likely for it to occur. He makes the distinction of seeing people who are not acting as a “lawful citizen” as automatically being labelled as deviant – in this case, hooligans. When informative articles like the ones mentioned use the term “hooligan” or make some sort of reference to it, they are using it as a means of differentiating these people from society.They are seen as troublemakers and lawbreakers. This in turn is creating a false image of those originally participating in the peaceful demonstration. It is also using the notion of “the other” to distinguish the entire group as a whole, when those who were peaceful are also receiving this false attention.

Moreover, this notion of ‘hooligans’ and ignorance on the part of the protestors is also mentioned by Stancu and Duffy in a different lens. They state, “17 people – mostly teenagers – were arrested. When they were asked why they behaved the way that they did, none could give a sensible reason. A reporter also asked the same question to a 14 year old boy who threw a rock at a police officer, and he responded saying that it was fun and everyone is doing it” (Stancu & Duffy 1992: 1). This shows the obliviousness of these teenagers and heightens the perspective of seeing them as delinquents. With emphasis put on these statements, it is portraying young people as again, hooligans, who have no sense of what is right or wrong. It again, is placing the wrong image of those who initially started the march against racism because police did put the blame on them.

With emphasis put only on the aftermath of the event, it is taking away from the initial purpose of fighting racism. The media fails to mention that this entire incident began with a positive movement in an attempt to ending one of today’s most dominant phenomenon, which is racism and police brutality. Now, in the end of this, the Yonge Street Riot is remembered as the day in which the city was torn apart with no apparent underlying reason or cause. It is seen as just an act of violence, vandalism, and harm.

References:

Lakey, Jack. 1992. “Raging Mob of Hooligans riot, loot, and battle police.” The Toronto Star, May 5, Retrieved December 9, 2012 ((http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/)

Mays, John Bentley. 1992. “Taking it to the streets.” The Globe and Mail, May 6, Retrieved December 9, 2012 ((http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/).

O’Malley, Sean. 1992.”We’re Gonne Act Like Animals.” The Globe and Mail, May 5, Retrieved December 6, 2012 (http://heritage.theglobeandmail.com)

Stancu, Henry & Duffy, Andrew. 1992. “Chief Blames Hooligans.” The Toronto Star, May 6, Retrieved December 6, 2012 (http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/).

The Vancouver Sun. 1992. “Anti-Racism Protest Erupts into Rioting.” The Vancouver Sun, May 5, Retrieved December 9, 2012 (http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/).

Walkom, Thomas. 1992. Blaming Hooliganism Seems a Little Too Easy.” The Toronto Star, May 6, Retrieved December 9, 2012 (http://sfx.scholarsportal.info/).

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One comment

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your media analysis mainly because not many people are aware of the Yonge Street riots so I find this important in regards to our history in Toronto. I find our media sad at many times because it always seems to emphasize on the negativity of the riots and cast away from the issues at hand and in this case anti-racism. I like the use of the “Freak Frame” it is exactly how the protestors were portrayed; thug-like and criminal. But it is specifically why there is focus on the “Freak Frame” as opposed the real issues at hand because it does not sell. There is nothing better than headlining about “Worst Riot Toronto has Seen” because no one wants to buy “Peaceful Protest Against Racism” and sadly nothings changed. Using this to compare to another Toronto riot, the G20, it is clear that the focus was on a cop car that was on fire and “hooligans” running the street. Yet the real issues were of human rights and poverty issues that were shadowed by the violence. The excessive force used by the police was also both outraging and unacceptable and better methods need to be looked at in regards to handling protests. Also even using the term “riot” takes a away from any credibility of the protestors themselves. Therefore not only does the media need to change the way they present the news, but the government needs to do a better job at handling it. However this may be a farfetched, but this should not stop people from participating in dissent.

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