Protesting, Rioting, and Looting

You never know when a peaceful and meaningful protest can turn into a riot followed by loots, fights, and other disastrous attempts.

Citizens protest for many occasions, but most of the time, they are all about human rights and injustice. When it comes to identifying the difference between protesting, rioting, and looting, a lot of unique and uncanny aspects come to consideration.

However, the cause of all these three terms is similar: people getting together and getting so lost in the gathering that they have no idea what is happening around them.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Police is now under so much hate after the George Floyd incident that the citizens have no faith in them. But, it would be rude to call all U.S. police martyr murderers.

Luckily, there is still a reasonable amount of police offers who respect and value very citizen equally and perform their duties rightfully.

Here, we will shed light on every aspect of protest, rioting, and looting. The first step to learning the difference between these three is to know the meaning of each, so let’s begin the explaining.

What Do You Mean by Riots?

Martin Luther King Jr. once described riots as “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Whenever we witness a riot on the news or streets, we quickly start to judge people who feel oppressed or socially excluded. These types of people are the ones who believe leaving a red mark on the place of the riot will catch the eyes of people.

Everything aside, can you ignore a group of people looting markets, threatening or misbehaving with the police, and overturning cars?

The answer is: NO, YOU CAN’T! Somehow, each of these actions represents different situations and decisions made by the authorities. That is why the rioters turn into a group of angry monsters.

Definition of a Riot

A riot is specifically a turbulent disturbance of public peace by groups of people attempting to loot stores, commit felonies, and destroy public property. Moreover, each person present in the riot shares one common cause.

Furthermore, there are a few limitations to riots. On the contrary, putting the moral purpose aside, there is no way for rioters to win, and each member of the large group knows it.

Rioting is not a revolutionary step, but it is a reactionary one because it calls out defeat. It incorporates an emotional, yet the wrong catharsis. Considering the example of a car’s lousy wheel that continuously drives you off the safe zone and tries its best to destroy you, what will you do?

You will replace the car wheel, of course. These examples relate to rioting and enlightening us about the fact that violence is never the answer to anything. Instead, we should use nonviolent techniques to apply for social change.

Yes, demonstrations, assemblies, and protests are protected and valued through the U.S. Constitution. Hence, if a group of people try to hurt people or destroy property, then the law does not abide by such behavior.

How Riots Work: The Causes

Riots vary from demonstrations or lawful protest due to the violence that occurs. Besides that, they are often disorganized and chaotic. You can receive an open invitation to join a protest or organize a meaningful assembly. Still, riots are more about mental breakdowns and massive psyche bonds between individuals.

The people who take part in a riot are mostly strangers, but when it comes to linking and sharing a cause, they all instantly become one. Moreover, race and poverty are the two primary bedrocks of riots.

People who are unaware of economic opportunities are the ones to participate in riots as they have nothing to lose. On the other hand, upper and middle-class people avoid disturbances because they can easily create problems in their livelihood.

In most riots, race becomes a common issue when different ethnicities feel socially excluded. In contrast, another ethnicity throws a different opinion on the former’s approach. In both of these social problems, rioters feel left out and unaccepted by the government.

Is Rioting a Felony?

According to the first amendment, one of the primary rights of Americans is to have free speech, which means citizens are allowed to protest against specific issues.

On the other hand, if a protest turns into something ugly, a riot, the right to free speech is no longer valid. Believe it or not, such an action is a felony, and it depends on how it happens and where you are.

U.S. Laws that Forbid Riots

 According to a book about laws from Iowa, rioting is brutal, and it deserves a penalty. The book defines riots as a group of people coming together to create violence.

That said, if you and your friend are somewhere in a mall and your friend starts to hit trash cans and furniture with a bat, your friend would be arrested. Nothing will happen to you because you did not participate in the attempt.

Furthermore, let’s say a third party joins you and your friend, and begin to throw rocks at the windows of shops and businesses. In that case, your behavior will be noted as rioting.

As for the further explanation, a riot does not comprise of three or more people attempting to destroy public property; it is much more than that:

  • Threatening innocent bystanders
  • Disturbing people
  • Using violence or lawful commandment to someone

If you as so much as disrupting the rioting laws, there is a possibility of you getting an aggravated misdemeanor. Moreover, the punishments of riot include a fine of $1000 to $65000 or two years in prison.

Meaningless Assembly

When it comes to more Iowa laws, they probit three or more people from participating in a riot and getting together. That is what we call an unlawful or meaningless assembly. A group of

people are charged with this crime if they come along intending to create a public disturbance.

However, rioting is different than meaningless assembly because the latter does not incorporate the use of force against a person or destroying public property. In clear words, an unlawful assembly is considered a traditional misdemeanor.

Although these are still serious, and the penalties for conviction are less worse than the ones for rioting. Other than that, a sentence involves a minor fine, and you may even have to spend a month in jail.

Lack of Dispersion

If the law enforcement acknowledges you and your friends rioting, they may politely order you to stop the activity. If a person is affected by the warning, he must leave the area. On the other hand, if you fail to disperse, you will have to deal with a misdemeanor.

Federal Laws About Rioting

During sensitive situations, a group of three or more people coming together is a federal crime.

According to the U.S. government, a riot is:

  • Involvement of three or more people
  • The group causes a public disturbance, including damaging property or putting people in danger, and threatening others.

The primary reason why a state law is different from federal law is that a riot turns into a federal crime when it passes the state limitations.

What are the Different Types of Protest?

There are many misconceptions going around about protesting and what it means. We feel that it is urgent to provide people with knowledge about complaining and make it clear for everyone.

A protest can be in two forms: Direct and Passive Action, which include:

  • Displaying signs
  • Petitions
  • Soap-boxing
  • Sit-ins
  • Strikes
  • Disruptive picketing
  • Distributing flyers
  • Demonstrations
  • Boycotts
  • Passive Picketing
  • Lock-downs
  • Occupations

Each of these types can be nonviolent or violent.

Passive and Direct Action

By definition, a protest is a shielding term for a variety of express objections, and the protests can be either inactive or passive Action. Passive protest or passive Action is the rightful choice for adopting a change in the system.

Furthermore, this can happen in several ways, but it has to be a calm and engaging method that does not disturb the mode. However, the term passive can often be confusing because the majority of forms demand massive Action, and passive protests can turn into a violent operation. Moreover, the protesters are demanding appeal and change, instead of considering the changes themselves.

When it comes to Direct Action, it does not seek appeal and change, but it denies it. Direct Action disapproves of the power of the system and its rules. If you want a movement to be successful, you have to incorporate both of these forms.

As for real-life examples, The Civil Rights Movement is a direct action protest that engages with both types of protest. Other than that, passive protest examples from the Civil Rights movement include picketers or flyer distribution; both were nonviolent. Both of these are passive because they demand change.

The examples of Direction Action include marches, demonstrations, and boycotts. Each of these ways of protesting was Direct Action because they were ignoring the system and focusing on their wishes.

What Are Some Examples Of Nonviolent Protests?

It’s not all about making your ways through violence and disruptions. Many civil rights movements have been successful and meaningful because they have incorporated peace and meaning. Other than that, they have led to a significant and systematic change in the world.

Let’s go back to the enormous landmark moments that serve as turning points in all the difficult times to achieve peace and equality in society. Here are the three best and nonviolent protests that led to a positive change in political and social matters.

1. The Delano Grape Boycott

This one was for all the American farmers in the 60s, led by Cesar Chavez. Cesar Chavez was an American labor leader who advocated for meaningful and peaceful protests, boycotts, and a nonviolent 25-day hunger protest. This movement led to several legislative changes to decrease exploitative abuse for the American farmers.

The strike went on for five years in Delano, Calif. In the raid, there were more than 2,000 farmers who demanded minimum wage specifically for underpaid and overworked Filipino farmers.

As a result of this strike, 17 million Americans attempted to boycott California grapes, which secured significant payments, excellent security services for the farmers, and unions.

2. The Singing Revolution

If there are any two essential and easy-going terms in protests, then they are social activism and music. That said, the Singing Revolution was one of the greatest and full of impact protests in the world.

During the rally, Estonia broke the rules and sang for the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, over 100,000 Estonians got together for five nights to raid against the Soviet government. This protest was titled as the Singing Revolution.

Furthermore, every Estonian considered singing and music as a prominent way to secure their culture while the fierce, yet small country held its culture during the invasion from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and others.

As a result of this strike, a country with a population of 1.5 million living under the Soviet rule got independence.

3. The Salt March

In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi conducted a nonviolent protest against the British during the conversion from wet to dry season imposed a law that no Indian could sell or buy salt in the country.

With the company of several other citizens, Gandhi walked for 240 miles, taking all the travelers to the Arabian Sea to pick a handful of salt from the muddy waters of the Arabian Sea.

After seventeen years, Indians received independence from the British.

Why Do People Start Looting During Protests?

Many of you may wonder why there is a volcanic eruption of people in a protest when things becomes out of control; it is mostly because of the irresponsible behavior of protesters. During these situations, looting becomes the rub.

Looters are opportunist looking to take advantage of a situation and really have no real interest in the protest itself. They know that the law enforcement is stretched in a protest with crowd control and if enough of them are looting there’s no way the police can catch them all.

Over the past couple of days, many Americans have joined hands to denounce police violence and racism after the death of George Floyd. However, the burning of property, stealing of goods, and breaking windows destroy the leading cause of protests, which is why non-protesters feel reluctant to support protesters.

According to the police, riots and protests lead to only a minimum percentage of looting, but this practice is still widely spread. When looters get mixed in with protesting people this is the worst thing that can happen to a protest movement.

Considering the tragedy of 2005: Hurricane Katrina, rioters, still didn’t stop there. There was a lot of lawless looting, from residents taking diapers, food, and thrashing grocery stores to steal beer and TV sets in the non-flooded areas during the hurricane.

The looters see an open opportunity, and they go for it. If the looters get caught red-handed, the police will press charges, and they will receive prison time.

Are Demonstrations Legal?

Before explaining whether demonstrations are legal or not, let’s define it first. A demo is an attempt by a group of people representing a political matter or people protesting against the system. It involves carrying stands and posters with meaningful statements. Other than that, demonstrations may be a gathering of people at a selected point.

Examples of Demonstrations

Actions such as sit-ins and blockades may be the best examples of demonstrations. However, protests can be violent or nonviolent, or they can begin with a peaceful cause and riot due to unpredictable circumstances.

During these cases, law enforcement is also sometimes involved. The law often stops these situations from happening. In other cases, it may stop clashes between two groups, or it prevents the demonstration from spreading in unwanted places and ending in a riot.

These situations can also lead to looting and destruction of public property if the law enforcement does not take care of it.

Now, the real deal: are demonstrations legal or not? As said above, American citizens have the right to free speech, but what is wrong is wrong! Demonstrating for constitutional rights and injustice is a good cause.

Still, protests often turn into riots followed by loots and other mishaps. During a demonstration, if someone tries to light a fire to burn tires, throw rocks at windows of cars, or tries to threaten innocent people, they will be charged with a penalty or worse.

A clear answer is that demonstrations are only legal when there is no riot or loot involved.

Final Words

In our world, not everyone leads a satisfying life. When people living minimalist lives opt for a change, they choose to protest.

Protesting does have positive impacts, but it doesn’t always change because when the protesting location becomes overcrowded, destruction in different forms takes place.

The bottom line is, people should behave like civilized citizens and opt to either join the system or beat the system – with optimism.


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