A variety of stimuli had to come together to create the chaos of St. Patrick's Day 2012
Credit: LEX20 (THINKSTOCK)
The 2012 St. Patrick's Day riots near Fanshawe happened during a time when social media was booming and what turned into a fun evening of negativity for years to come.
Formerly a quiet day of Christian observance, the feast of St. Patrick is now, for many, nothing more than an excuse to overindulge.
Green beer has replaced the altar wine of the past and, for better or worse, more people spend the day hand-standing over a keg than sitting inside a church pew.
Mildly hedonistic? Perhaps. Exceedingly harmful? Rarely.
For the average college student, the morning after a particularly social St. Patrick’s Day is typically made better by a few Ibuprofens and a greasy breakfast.
However, for a number of local party-goers six years ago, sunrise on March 18, 2012, brought more than just a headache.
That year saw Fleming Drive go up in flames. Over 1,000 revellers, many of whom were Fanshawe students, crowded the small street and its surrounding area, causing chaos and destruction. When police arrived at the scene, officers were met with bottles and debris. Fences were torn down. Street signs were pulled from their posts. A news van was flipped over and set alight. The entire ordeal resembled something out of a post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy.
Dozens of people were arrested.
After all was said and done, according to the London Free Press, taxpayers had to foot a bill of around $500,000. Sixty-eight suspects in total were charged, 26 of them Fanshawe students.
The story flew around the world and gave both the college and the city two regrettably large black eyes. The mayor of London at the time, Joe Fontana, referred to those involved in the affair as “idiots”.
Undoubtedly, most of the decisions made by party participants that night were idiotic. Though, was it really fair to classify them all as “idiots”?
Fontana’s comment was lazy, at best. Instead of asking “how” and “why”, the disgraced politician (later found guilty of fraud and forgery in 2014,) simply described “who” and his own perception of “what”.
Several factors came together to create the chaos of St. Patrick Day’s 2012.
The most obvious factor being, of course, a whole day of drinking. Liquid courage has the capacity to empower even the meekest of introverts.
Similarly, an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, can make a young person feel invincible and far more susceptible to reckless behaviour.
Cerebral underdevelopment and inebriation alone can make a college-age partier act dreadfully inappropriate. Though, mix them together with anonymity, peer pressure, and a human tendency toward herd behaviour and it starts to become clear how Fleming Drive ended up in flames.
But, why did the riot happen when it did? Twenty-twelve was a landmark year in the social media boom.
That year, Facebook became a public company and reached one billion active users. Twitter’s userbase increased by 40 per cent between September 2011 and March 2012. While, Instagram reached 50 million active monthly users and was acquired by Facebook.
By March of 2012, people were connected unlike ever before. Party invitations could circulate between thousands of students within seconds.
In addition, like this year, St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday in 2012. Students, therefore, could drink from sunrise to long after sunset, without worrying about classes that day or the next.
Finally, not only was it a Saturday, but March 17, 2012 was warm and sunny. In fact, it remains the warmest March 17 on record for the city of London. That day, temperatures reached a balmy 22 degrees Celsius (compare that to the historical average high of just 3 degrees Celsius).
Thus, the revellers that night were not “idiots”, as Mayor Fontana so ineloquently put it.
Rather, they were, more accurately: heavily intoxicated young people, anonymously cloaked in a large herd of their peers, brought together by an increasingly influential medium, without any real responsibility or anywhere to be the next day, enjoying summer-like weather conditions at the tailend of a long winter season, while, not to mention, releasing steam amidst an onerous academic term.