1992 Yonge Street Riot

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WZtRw9II2s[/youtube]

I came across this interesting find on YouTube recently — it’s an extended clip from CityTV after the 1992 Yonge Street Riot, one of the more curious and far-flung repercussions of the acquittal of the LAPD officers in the Rodney King beating case and subsequent Los Angeles riots. I was not in Toronto at the time, but often hear stories passed around about that night. Apart from being a crazy episode in Toronto’s history, we see some 17 year old views of people like Ben Chin, Avi Lewis and Susan Eng. Do you recognize anybody else in the video — community leaders or perhaps even the dudes overturning the hotdog cart? Were you there or passing by that night? Share your thoughts.

13 comments

  1. The Yonge Street Riots wasn’t just a reaction to the Rodney King beating case – it was the culmination of deeply rooted racial and cultural tensions in Toronto (remember Dudley Laws?). The province was in a recession, and the riots forced the government to realize the serious issues between their social-service agencies and the police. That led to the Jobs Ontario Youth (JOY) program, which placed 8,500 young people in subsidized private and public sector jobs.

  2. We’ve all watched TV reports about riots in other cities – and the impression often given by electronic media is that the entire city is under threat. On the night of the first riots my office was located well east of Yonge and I had stayed quite late to catch up on work. Heading home, as my streetcar travelled westbound and approached Yonge I was amazed to see the riot damage, huge police presence and general mayhem. ASs we continued west, the city faded back into normalcy.

    Since I didn’t have a radio or TV on at my office I had no knowledge of the riots – and there was nothing in the neighbourhood around my office to suggest that something was going on only a few blocks away. For me, this didn’t diminish the serious message about social and racial equity which had ignited the riots – however it has left a lasting impression on how I interpret media reporting.

  3. Did you stumble on this from browsing that ed conroy collection of Toronto TV bits? The Alice cooper CNE riot footage is interesting to watch too.

  4. Interesting to see how much more substantive City TV was back then, and how much more interesting it was to watch.

  5. I think my biggest bit of nostalgia was seeing the Harvey’s that Chin was in front of. Because of the economic downturn, this is most likely going to be a whole in the ground for a long, long time.

  6. The night of the riotsI was at a meeting at radio station CKLN on the Ryerson campus. I was with a group of other Jewish students lobbying the station to moderate their extremely pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel programming and offer a little more balance in how they cover the Mideast. Since they relied on direct funding from our Ryerson tuition payments, we were of the opinion that they needed to do a better job of representing our community also. I suppose we shouldn’t have had high expectations – at the time the station’s motto was “Do the Left Thing”. Suffice it to say, the ideologues who ran the station wanted to hear none of what we had to say, and we left dejected. It was now the early evening. I walked down Victoria Street to Dundas and headed into the subway entrance at the northeast corner of Yonge and Dundas where Toronto Life Square stands today. I can’t say I noticed anything out of the ordinary. When I got home I turned on my TV and saw the coverage of the riots, which had apparently been happening precisely when I entered the subway. How I missed seeing any of it, I really don’t know!

  7. I am a former Police officer who worked the night of that riot. I remember that the protest started at Bay and Bloor Street’s. It was to protest the aquittal of the officers in the Rodney King case, or at least that was the reason for the sit in at this location.

    It started with a small crowd but as media arrived, the broadcasts drew in more spectators and protestors.

    My wife worked down the street on Bay at the time. I remember going to her office and speaking to the doctor she worked for and the other staff and suggested that he close the office for the day. The tension on the part of the protestors was running high.

    Our role was simply to keep the peace and make sure it was an orderly protest. As the crowd grew, it progressed down to Nathan Phillips square.

    The protest continued there and remained peaceful. I was on Bay Street at the time and observing the protest.

    The protest seemed to come to an end after a while. The crowd seemed to be dispersing. I went into the back door of the Eaton’s Centre off of Albert Street to conduct a foot patrol through the mall.

    A crowd of people from the protest went across Queen Street and proceeded northbound on Yonge Street.

    They were smashing windows, kicking over hotdog carts and beating people up. I was running inside the Eaton’s Centre, parallel to the riot assisting security in getting people trapped in front of the riot inside.

    We made our way to Yonge Street and Dundas Street. There were about four officers including myself. There were a group of people and hotdog vendors in front of the riot looking for a place to escape to.

    We motioned for them to come towards us and we directed them into the doors of the Eaton’s Centre. The rioters kicked over hotdog carts at Yonge and Dundas, they picked up Mason jars with condiments, coblestone, anything they could get their hands on and they let us have it.

    The four of us tried to defend the door and pulled people behind us into the Eaton’s centre.

    We had our hands in front of our face to deflect what was was being thrown at us. Someone got smart or lucky and threw something at the large windows behind us which shattered down on us.

    I got a piece of glass or debris in my eye and could not see anything coming at me. A security guard grabbed me by the shirt collar and pulled me in the door where I was able to remove what was in my eye and function again.

    The rioters kept going north on Yonge Street.

    I remember having a standoff with the crowd in the area of Bay Street and I think it was Charles, it was North of Wellesley in any event.

    There were three ranks of Police officers standing shoulder to shoulder across Bay Street, hundreds of rioters opposite from us.

    There was a buffer zone between us on Bay Street where a ranking officer did his best to calm the crowd with a PA system.

    There were mounted officers in this buffer zone. The rioters threw bricks, and various debris at us. I remember the officer next to me getting hit in the face with an object and dropping to the ground.

    I recall someone throwing a large piece of cobblestone in the air which came down on the nasal cavity of one of the mounted officers horses. The horses eyes rolled back in its head, took three steps back and down to its buttocks it went.

    The mounted officer got off the horse, walked to the front of the animal and looked at it. He turned and glared at the rioters.

    In that moment you could have heard a pin drop. I dont think the agressor meant to hurt the animal.

    Everything stopped and was hauntingly quiet until the rider walked his horse through the ranks,and loaded it in a trailer.

    Once the ranks closed, we were pelted continually with objects.

    I know as Police officers, we were just out there trying to prevent the downtown area from being over-run, nothing more.

    In my view it was a dark day in Toronto history. Hopefully one that is never re-visited again, regardless of what the Political climate, or tensions are of the day.

  8. I remember seeing the footage of hot dog cart tipping back in ’92, and it seemed really funny to me for some shameful reason. This feels like a PostSecret admission.

  9. I wasn’t there, I’d never heard of it and I’ve lived in Toronto for almost 4 decades. I came across the mention of it in an old economic doomsday book called, The Great Reckoning. In 1992, I lived in the Beaches near the racetrack and a friend of mine worked for City TV. He was Jamaican. I guess it never came up, or he was there and thought they were hooligans and not real rioters, I don’t know. When I phoned him, he said had completely forgot it. If you talk to people about Toronto riots, they look at you as if you’re crazy.

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