A Riot of My Own: Montreal is NOT LA... or is it?
Out of the blue, someone hit me with this last night:
"So Montreal is just like Los Angeles now."
I was stunned. I've spent six years occasionally writing about and constantly trying to come to terms with the wild and weird cultural and social discrepancies between the two countries and the two cities and this one really sandbagged me. I muttered some declarative inanity to the effect that "Trust me, Montreal is NOT LA" but now I'm wondering if I was a little too hasty in my response.
Granted, the person who hit me with this one has his own agenda. Although a genial, educated and often charming guy, he's prone to see almost everything wrong with the world in terms of race. Or the Republicans. Or anyone who views the world differently than he does.
So he took no small amount of satisfaction in tossing that little tidbit of pithiness in my face. Or at least that's the way it seemed to me.
He was referring to the recent riots in Montreal North, of course, and he seemed (to me) rather pleased about the whole thing. He knows how disheartened I am about the casual racism (or at least what I see as the casual racism) so prevalent down here, and he loves to provoke people and foster arguments. He routinely dismisses all liberals as ignorant fools, but I'm told I shouldn't take it personally. And, of course, he'll deny to the end of his days that he's racist, but he's not above tossing off the most mean-spirited sweeping generalizations and hurtful epithets about various groups without a second thought. And whatever you do don't get him started on the Jews.
If you don't know about the Montreal riots, there's a good summary on the Canadian Press site. But essentially, the riot erupted after the police shooting of an unarmed kid.
You wanna drag racism into it? The cops were white. The kid was "dusky," to use the euphemism my friend used. Had we not been in mixed company, he might have used a lot stronger word.
The rioters were a mixed lot, but given the neighbourhood, it's a safe bet that plenty of them were "dusky" as well.
The whole shooting thing is now under investigation, so some details are pretty murky, but since it's the Surete, the Quebec provincial police who investigate such shootings, don't expect much. The mutual backscratching between police forces in such investigations has been going on for years.
The Montreal police do have a history of shooting unarmed people, particularly those of the "dusky" persuasion (a memorable incident in Montreal several years ago had them killing a high school teacher). They also have a history of closing ranks after every such incident. In this case, they refused not only to name the two police officers involved (understandable), but didn't even interview them until days after the incident (which certainly ratcheted up the tensions that contributed to the riot). In fact, even two weeks later, they still haven't revealed why the two police officers approached the youth and his friends in the first place.
The police might have been totally in the right; they might have been totally in the wrong, but their secretiveness and evasiveness has once again made matters worse. And now, there's a riot to investigate as well. Once again, that sounds like LA.
Still, there are differences. The Montreal cops are almost totally white and the immigrants in Montreal North are almost all legal (actually, most of them aren't even immigrants, having been born in Canada). The dead kid, though, was an immigrant. Honduran, in fact.
God knows, there is racism in Canada (and Quebec and even Montreal), but I'd like to think most Montrealers would find the casual racism so many Los Angelenos take for granted abhorrent. Or at least I'd like to think so.
This particular riot is probably more in line with the recent ones in Paris, but once the first window is smashed, the first brick is thrown or the first cop opens fire on a crowd, all riots are the same. Stupidity is the great equalizer.
People will always riot, given the right circumstances. And some assholes (no matter what colour) will take advantage of that to let off steam, smash things or line their own pockets. I remember sitting in a sidewalk bar on Crescent Street, nursing a beer, watching a very respectable-looking middle-aged (white) lady running down the street, her arms full of designer dresses, during the 1986 Stanley Cup riot in Montreal.
Injustice, real or imagined, seems to be a common catalyst for riots, but good ol' high spirits seem to suffice as well.
The other notable riots in Montreal history generally have to do with hockey (certainly not a problem in LA), and involve mostly white people. Oh, and then there's probably the most significant one, way back in 1849 or so, when a bunch of disgruntled, anti-Democratic Scotch/Irish/Brits burned down the Parliament Buildings in Montreal.
Which is why Ottawa is the national capital. Damn whitey, always causing trouble.
Here are a few comments worth pondering...
"Montreal is rotten to the core"
-- Lord Elgin (Canadian governor, after the Montreal Parliament Buildings were burned down)
"Montreal is almost as crooked as we are."
-- Raymond Chandler, LA crime writer, in "Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate"
"Stupid nigs and stupid Beaners who should be kicked out of the country because they are all welfare suckers and are a total waste of good air. Until our politicians stop allowing uneducated people from banana Republics this is going to happen more frequently."
-- some good Montreal citizen, about the Montreal north riots
"At least nobody's dragged language into it. Yet."
-- a citizen from Westmount (formerly an Anglo enclave)
"A riot is the language of the unheard."
-- Martin Luther King
Is Montreal the same as LA? I look at the clips of the riots on UTube and read the vitriol being spewed on blogs and in letters to the editors and see the whole charade being played out and I think about how quietly smug we Canadians (including me) can be sometimes, and in my darkest moments of despair wonder if maybe, just maybe, we're not worse.