'I kissed her to calm her’: Scott Jones and Alexandra Thomas, the Vancouver riots, 2011

‘Even today, some still think the photo’s a fake’

It was the night of the Stanley Cup final, the climax of Canada’s ice hockey league. Vancouver’s team, the Canucks, were beaten 4-3 by the Boston Bruins – a particularly bruising defeat as it was a home game. Alex and I were watching the game at a friend’s house downtown, a few blocks from the stadium. We’d been together six months, after meeting through friends in a bar.

In the past, when the Canucks had won games, I’d seen people come out into the streets high-fiving each other. But that night, the atmosphere was tense; a couple of cars were set on fire before the game even finished.

We left our friend’s apartment and walked through the streets towards the station, to catch a train back to east Vancouver, where I was living. At first there wasn’t a lot happening, but then people started smashing windows. The riot police showed up, and we got caught up in a crowd.

Suddenly the line of police charged us. Everyone started running; we weren’t quite quick enough and got knocked down. Two police came over and kicked us, trying to get us to move along. Alex was on the ground and I was trying to protect her. After a few seconds they moved on, and left us in the empty street. Alex was hysterical; I kissed her to calm her down.

We were on the ground for a few minutes, and then people started coming over to see if we were all right. We only had a few scratches. We walked to the train station and found it had been closed because of the riot, so we had to keep walking to find the nearest station that was still open. The other people on the train were all in good spirits; it was strange.

The next morning, I woke up to a text from a friend we’d seen the night before: “Was that you in that photo?” I had no idea what she was talking about. I looked it up on Facebook, where she had tagged us. A newspaper had published pictures of the riot and there we were, among photos of burning cars. When Alex first saw it, she was immediately worried people could see her bottom.

The phone calls started immediately – from radio and TV stations, and newspapers all over the world. I didn’t know what to say, so I just stopped answering my phone. It was overwhelming. We arranged to meet the photographer, Richard Lam, for some advice. He said: “It’s best to give the dog a bone, or they’ll just keep trying to hunt you down.”

There was so much speculation – that Alex had been stabbed, that I wasn’t her boyfriend, that I had my hand up her dress – so we just decided to clear everything up. I can see the picture’s appeal: the contrast of the riot police and the city burning, with us kissing. But even today, some still think the photo’s a fake.

Three days after the riot, we left Vancouver for a holiday in California, before moving to Australia together, where I am from. Richard sent us a big copy of the photo and it’s hanging in our house in Perth. Every year, on the anniversary of the riot, we get calls from journalists asking: “Are you still together?”

• Are you in a notable photograph? Email thatsme@theguardian.com


Erica Buist

The GuardianTramp

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