YONGE STREET RIOT 1992 – Critical Analysis

The Yonge Street Riot of 1992 holds a great deal of significance when analyzing the criminalization of dissent. In short, this event originated as a peaceful gathering in light of the outcomes of the Rodney King case in Los Angeles (Bradburn, 2011). Other contributing cases of police brutality at the time included the killing of 22 year old Jamaican immigrant Raymond Lawrence by Toronto police a few days before the rally was scheduled to take place (Bradburn, 2011). However this peaceful protest did not remain very peaceful. As the night continued many situational vandals and  youth of different races attached themselves to the movement creating what we refer to today as the Yonge Street Riot. Further details and other specifics can be found in my previous post.

The apparent racism and police brutality behind this protest organized by the Black Action Defence Committee proves rather problematic in maintaining the legitimacy of police power. Unless there are progressive actions taken to ensure a more representative police force, alienation and antagonism between police and minorities will be inevitable (Oppal 1994; as cited in King, 1997). Toronto is a prime example where these efforts are needed. Being so multicultural, effective community policing requires an adequate representation of the population. Near the time of these events 94% of the Toronto Police Force was comprised of white officers, nowhere near being representative (Bettencourt-McCarthy & Abdulle, 2014). The protest as originally organized had intended to address such issues. By gathering in front of the US consulate in Toronto activists intended to speak out against what was happening in Los Angeles but also against the racism and excessive use of force applied by the Toronto police here at home.

Looking back at community policing, the power of self-governance plays a large part to establish social order in a neoliberal society. For those in power, resistance caused by dissenting forces prove threatening to their status, therefore the criminalization of dissent becomes a counter force. Sovereignty becomes a means to ensure self governance through the fear of punishment by authority.  Foucault characterizes sovereignty as circular, where the end of sovereignty is the exercise of sovereignty (Foucault, 1991). He continues by explaining that the good is obedience to the law, hence the good for sovereignty is that people should obey it (Foucault, 1991).

Further effects of neoliberalism include the responsibilization of the individual and as a result the creation of the other.  It becomes difficult to establish unified social domain and communal solidarity when a single national culture is displaced by the involvement of multiple communities, plural identities and cultural diversity (Rose, 2000). Rose describes this as the dichotomy of inclusion and exclusion (Rose, 2000). In the case regarding the Yonge Street Riots, the excluded persons are the members of the black community whom feel segregated. Achieving control via inclusion in Neoliberal society aims to establish social solidarity by affiliating people with their respective norms (Rose, 2000). On the other hand, exclusion is when opposing persons are subject to strategies of control deeming them anti-citizens. At this point measures are taken to neutralize their threat (Rose, 2000). Therefore under this power dynamic both sides are subject to methods of control. During the Yonge Street Riot, methods of control such as neutralizing the threat of danger were enforced by police on the “others” consisting of original and situational protestors alike. This translated to the arresting of 30 people that night, a majority of which were based on disorderly conduct charges (Bradburn, 2011).  This outcome demonstrated how the “us vs them” ideology inextricably linked to circumstances of resistance was ultimately the demise to this movement. By grouping members of the original protest led by the BADC with the situational looters that joined later on, both groups were categorized as “anti-citizen” subject to neutralization. As a result the defining messages from the movement were lost to situational violence as they were reported in the media. Further analysis on the media coverage of this event can be found here.


Bettencourt-McCarthy, W. & Abdulle, Z. (2014, August 20). What Toronto Can Learn From the Police Shooting of Michael Brown. The Torontoist, (http://torontoist.com/2014/08/what-toronto-can-learn-from-the-police-shooting-of-michael-brown/)

Bradeburn, J. (2011, August 11). There’s a Riot Goin’ on Down Yonge Street. The Torontoist, (http://torontoist.com/2011/08/theres_a_riot_goin_on_down_yonge_street/)

Foucault, M. (1978[1991]). Governmentality. Pp. 87-104 in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. University of Chicago Press, 1-307.

King, M. (1997). Policing and public order issues in Canada: Trends for change. Policing and Society, 8, 47-75.

Rose, N. (2000). Government and Control. British Journal of Criminology, 40, 321-229.



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