Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot of 2011 – Poetry by Larry Smeets

 

HELPING HAND

 

(“For reasons I can’t really explain, I went from being a spectator to becoming part of the mob mentality that swept through many members of the crowd ….  I am truly ashamed of what I did.” Nathan Kotylak, aged 17, reflecting on his role in setting a police cruiser on fire during the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot of June 15, 2011)

 

 

We walk a blind stranger

across a crowded crosswalk,

or give coins to the poor man

seated at the street corner,

clenching a sign that says

‘No Job – Will Work For Food’.

Washed by gentle summer rain

we feel generous and kind.

It’s easy to conclude

we are charitable men.

 

But what if this were

a different locale,

a different time?

What if the blind stranger

stood on the arrival platform

at Auschwitz death camp

in the year 1943;

was a Jewess selected

by Nazi conquerors

for the gas chamber?

Would we still offer our arm?

What if the poor man

crouched at the corner

of the Mayan temple Chichen Itza

in the year 1000;

was a hostage of war

destined for blood sacrifice

to the celestial gods?

Would we dare intercede?

 

What if these were

the same streets we walk

each day to work,

but with a different scene?

The local hockey team

has just lost the play-offs.

We stand in the midst

of a surging crowd

of fuming fans.

Hooligans kindled

by a hidden agenda

overturn cars,

set them afire.

Others smash in windows

and ransack stores,

terrorizing all inside.

What would we do now?

 

We could simply turn away

and go home.  But we find

it’s hard to withdraw.

For the riot’s shepherds

exude a certain savoir faire.

They’re exulted somehow –

above the day-to-day grind.

Have they broken free

from the straightjacket

binding you and me?

How could their actions,

which many cheer on,

possibly be wrong?  Do we

offer them a helping hand?

In Auschwitz or Chichen Itza

the high price to be paid

for lending aid is clear.

So too (with the benefit of hindsight)

is the right thing to do.

But that’s not so here.

The danger may be clear,

but virtue’s cost is obscured.

We’re led to do things

we’ve not done before,

only then to apprehend

we’ve committed crimes

deserving condemnation.

 

So why cross this Rubicon?

No doubt we’ve made

a life-changing choice

far too casually.

But there’s a deeper cause.

The decision was based

not on any weighing

of right and wrong

(for if the truth be told,

we probably didn’t know),

but on a spur of the moment

impulse to belong.

 

So how harshly

should those who’ve fallen

be judged?  Let’s seek

first to understand them –

in all their unpredictability,

violence and fragility.

Understand how the scene

dictated the choices many made.

Adrift on a stormy sea

of life, they hunger

for new experiences,

for excitement,

for rapture.

Their days one long search

for somewhere firm to land,

they found themselves

cast up here

on this riot-torn street –

they went with the flow.

 

So in these hours of shame,

recrimination and blame,

let those who can

be generous and kind.

Help our fallen neighbours

come to understand

what they’ve done,

whom they’ve harmed.

Let those of us who can

lend them a helping hand,

so this won’t reoccur.

Out of these ashes

let us build up

a better city for all.

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