Last night in Madrid, police and young Madrileños clashed in the Madrid neighborhood of Malasaña. A few years ago, the city prohibited what is known as botellón, or the public consumption of alcohol. The practice of botellón is very common amongst teenagers who prefer to gather in parks and plazas to drink alcohol instead of paying for their drinks in bars. In any event, May 1st and May 2nd are holidays in Madrid and the main plaza in Malasaña is called the Plaza Dos de Mayo (in honor of Madrid’s resistence to Napoleon) and in recent years has a been favorite botellón spot. Thus to celebrate the holiday and to resist what they must perceive as as an assault on their inalienable right to public drinking, the youngters defied the law and the police attempted to stop them. All in all, some 100 people (about 50% of them police) were injured.
This is not the first time the police and youth have battled it out over the right to botellón. What I find interesting is that individually, people in Europe (especially in Spain) are generally not violent, but in groups they are. This was also seen last night in similar, yet unrelated, protests in Berlin. Europeans are also violent when supporting their soccer teams. On the other hand, in the US people do not tend to protest violently or in support of their professional teams. Individuals are dangerous, not the masses. Add to that guns and dark streets and the fact that crowds are always more predictable than individuals, and the US becomes a scary place. Meanwhile, Madrid is incredibly safe, even when walking alone late at night. There are no guns. But, put a bunch of people together and a seemingly absurd political cause, and you have a small riot on hand. We often see images of police brutality at a traffic stop in the States, but never the police clashing with a crowd. The opposite occurs in Europe.
In the US there is individual violence. In Europe there is collective violence.