Puerta del Sol and the Gamification of Violence | Edward Anderson

On a night of violence and disorder that spread from Puerta del Sol, Edward reports from Madrid.

Violence erupted across Madrid last night as what started as a protest against the imprisonment of Pablo Hasel, a Catalan rapper who amongst other activities has made statements attacking the Spanish Royal Family and institutions, rapidly escalated into an all-out war between Spanish police officers and the rioters. In Barcelona, where this was the second day of protests, a girl lost an eye whilst the spread of violence to Madrid suggests there is something far more disturbing to the events than just a legitimate protest.

Barcelona has of course become an almost regular participant in the burning of bins and hurling of bottles at Police. Whether it be the riots of October 2019 or last night, scenes of makeshift barricades with fires blazing in the street have become an increasing occurrence. 

What will be more worrying is how that spread to Madrid last night. Beginning at the heart of the city in Puerta Del Sol, where the statue of Carlos III and Madrid’s famous bear reside, what started as a peaceful protest escalated into the police charging protestors having kettled them in, to prevent others from joining. 

By 9pm, hundreds had descended to the spot behind the police to attack them, leading to huge fires being set ablaze just off Puerta del Sol in Calle Mayor and sub streets. For my part, having turned towards Plaza Mayor to get out of the smoke that was choking the streets, youths had erected a barricade in Calle de Zaragoza (check this) where I got to witness the spectacle of hooded youths smash in a bank ATM with a brick and one young man wielding a mannequin’s leg in Plaza Mayor. 

At around 9:15pm the larger police presence had arrived and were driving the rioters down Calle Mayor whilst under fire from projectiles, as firefighters came behind to try and put out the fires that had been set alight all across the avenues. By 9:30 pm, the violence then became sporadic across the city, with rioters moving through the centre of Madrid’s many alleyways and Police raced from one spot to the next. It would work its way down Calle de Toledo and towards Puerta de Toledo, an historic landmark that lies on the opposite end of Calle de Toledo from Plaza Mayor. 

Sadly for Madrid, what was supposed to be a weekend where restrictions were eased and the curfew time moved back will of course now have to be suspended as police look to suppress the possibility of this spreading over the weekend. There is a lot that can (and no doubt will be) written about the events and of course once this is over it will be time to reflect. For now, my main fear is that we are seeing the increasing gamification of violence. A phenomenon where social media can amplify events instantly so people, who would previously not have had any idea of what was occurring, can rapidly join and overtake the events. If the aim of the protest was to have a conversation about freedom of speech against the Royal Family, it failed because all the coverage here is of senseless violence and streets ablaze. 

There will of course be legitimate protestors but with viral videos pushed by Twitter and Facebook, the growing minority (who at this stage are almost hobbyists for riots) can descend on virtually any cause, any protest and turn it into an orgy of violence. As the media becomes attracted to the story, the army of photographers and reporters further amplify events to attract out more people in a vicious circle. Nor do I know if this gamification can be stopped, which makes holding a protest which captures media attention but is not able to be hijacked almost impossible. 

I don’t know how legitimate protestors can effectively dissociate themselves from people such as the lad I saw, less than five yards from me, who put a brick through an ATM. He probably wasn’t a deep political thinker but it is the actions of people like him which dominate news coverage and increasingly public protests in Spain. 

All we can hope in the next few days is that police can get a grip on the situation before the more difficult conversations about the state of Spain must begin.

Photo owned by Edward Anderson

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