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File:Battle strike 1934.jpg

Teamsters, armed with pipes, riot in a clash with riot police in the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934.

File:Bastille 2007-05-06 anti Sarkozy 487633669 93d13b826b o.jpg

Rioters typically wear face masks, scarves, and other headgear, in order not to be recognizable and in order to filter tear gas; they may use cobblestones as projectiles

A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized often by disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are typically chaotic and exhibit herd behavior, and usually generated by civil unrest.

Riots often occur in reaction to a perceived grievance or out of dissent. Historically, riots have occurred due to poor working or living conditions, government, oppression, taxation or conscription, conflicts between Ethnic groups, food supply or religions (see race riot, sectarian violence and pogrom), the outcome of a sporting event or frustration with legal channels through which to air grievances.

Riots typically involve vandalism and the destruction of private and public property. The specific property to be targeted varies depending on the cause of the riot and the inclinations of those involved. Targets can include shops, cars, restaurants, state-owned institutions, and religious buildings.

Some rioters have become quite sophisticated at understanding and withstanding the tactics used by police in such situations. Manuals for successful rioting are available on the internet. These manuals also encourage rioters to get the press involved, as there is more safety with the cameras rolling. There is also more attention. Citizens with video cameras may also have an effect on both rioters and police.

Dealing with riots is often difficult task for police departments, and police officers sent to deal with riots are usually armed with ballistic shields and riot shotguns, mainly because of the larger spread of the shorter barrels. Police may also use tear gas and CS gas to stop rioters. Most riot police have moved to using less-than-lethal methods to control riots, such as shotguns that fire rubber slugs and flexible baton rounds to injure or otherwise incapacitate rioters for easy arrest.

Types of riots

A police riot is a term for the wrongful, disproportionate, unlawful and illegitimate use of force by a group of police against a group of civilians. A police riot commonly describes a situation where police attack a group of peaceful civilians and/or provoke previously peaceful civilians into violence.

A prison riot is a type of large scale, temporary act of concerted defiance or disorder by a group of prisoners against the prison administrators, prison officers, or other groups of prisoners in attempt to force change or express a grievance.

In a race riot race or ethnicity is the key factor. The term had entered the English language in the United States by the 1890s. Early use of the term in the United States referred to race riots which were often a mob action by members of the majority racial group against people of other perceived races.

In a religious riot the key factor is religion.[1] The rioting mob targets people and properties of a specific religion, or those believed to belong to that religion.

Student riots are riots precipitated by students, often in higher education, such as a college/university. Student riots in the US and Western Europe in the 1960s and the 1970s were often political in nature, although student riots can occur as a result of peaceful demonstration oppressed by the authorities and after sporting events (see hooliganism). Students may constitute an active political force in a given country, and student riots may occur in the context of wider political or social grievances.

Urban riots are those riots identified as taking place in the context of urban conditions associated with urban decay, such as discrimination, poverty, high unemployment, poor schools, poor healthcare, housing inadequacy and police brutality and bias. Urban riots are closely associated with race riots and police riots. In India, for instance, caste riots have tended to be limited to rural theatres while religious riots centred around urban agglomerations.

Sports riots are linked to the performance of a specific team and can be sparked by the losing or winning of that team, such as the Nika riots. Fans of the two teams may also fight. They are generally seen in two sports, hockey and association football. Players rarely join in such riots, which usually occur in and around the playing field (in association football) or in the streets or stands (in hockey).

Food and bread riots are caused by harvest failures, incompetent food storage, hoarding, poisoning of food, or attacks by pests like locusts. When the public becomes too desperate in such conditions, they attack shops, farms, homes, or government buildings to attain bread or other staple foods like grain or salt, as in the 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots.

Many governments and political systems have fallen after food riots, including-

Riot history

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File:DAD Prowling mob.jpg

An armed mob on the prowl during the Direct Action Day riots in Calcutta.


The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were a series of demonstrations led by students, intellectuals and labour activists in the People's Republic of China between April 15 and June 4, 1989. The demonstrations centred on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Government retaliation was often violent and riots broke out in affected regions.

In 2005, the Chinese government admitted to 87,000 demonstrations and riots across China.[2]

The Jakarta riots of May 1998 were a series of riots against ethnic Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta and Surakarta, Indonesia.There were also hundreds of documented accounts of ethnic Chinese women being raped, tortured and killed.[3] Human Rights groups have determined that the Indonesian military was involved in the riots, which degenerated into a pogrom.[4]

The Partition of India was a traumatic event in South Asian history that followed the independence of the region from British colonial rule. The ensuing riots resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims.

In 2006, there were nationwide riots in Pakistan and numerous other areas over the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.[5]

In 2008, several citizens, mainly native Tibetans, in Tibet have rioted against the Chinese government months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in response to the detainment of 300 lamaist monks. In addition to the riots, other Tibetan citizens and other anti-Chinese organizations outside of China, attempted to disrupt the Olympic torch relay prior to the riots as well as several other issues by harassing the torch bearers by attempting to remove the torch. In response, the torch bearers had to be escorted by security to prevent further conflicts with protesters.

The 2010 Thai political protests soon turned violent.


The Sydney Riot of 1879 was one of the earliest riots at an international cricket match. Riots have become major news generators, including Aboriginal riots in response to the death of an Aboriginal boy, and most recently the 2005 summer race riots. These riots took place on the beaches of the eastern Sydney suburbs and directly downtown, most prominently Cronulla.


Europe has historically seen a diverse range of riots, ranging from hooliganism to May Day riots. Recent riots have taken place in a political context (escalation of political demonstrations), rioting to prevent the eviction of social centres and/or squats, and racial tensions in the broader context of urban decay.

Riots broke out in the city of Gothenburg, Sweden, from the 14th to the 16th of June 2001. A total of 53 police officers and 90 vandals and demonstrators were hurt during the many riots that were going on between these days. The reasons for the riot were the EU summit that took place in Gothenburg and the visit of USA's President George W. Bush.

The Nørrebro riots followed the selling of Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen in Denmark. People from Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom participated in the riots. In total 750 people were arrested during the fighting; 140 of these foreigners.

In October 2005 and again in November 2007, immigrant youth rioted in the poor Paris suburbs of Clichy-sous-Bois and Villiers-le-Bel, respectively, each time in reaction to the deaths of North African youth at the hands of police.

Another similar incident in Greece, involving the death of a 15-year-old student, who was fatally shot by a police officer, resulted to widespread rioting throughout the country.

United States and Canada

The worst riots in United States history with respect to lives lost took place during the Civil War when immigrant factory workers forcibly resisted the federal government's military draft, the New York Draft Riots. These riots were graphically depicted in the movie Gangs of New York with a low level of accuracy.

The Cincinnati Riots of 1884 started when a mob attacked the Cincinnati jail in an attempt to lynch William Berner, who had been sentenced to 20 years in jail for manslaughter after murdering his employer. Over 10,000 rioters gathered to attack the jail, and troops and the militia were called in the assist the police. After three days of violence, the jail and courthouse had been burned, over 50 people had died and many more were wounded.[6]

Since the 1950s the US has seen a series of race riots in the context of the civil rights movement and urban decay. Over the first nine months of 1967, 128 American cities suffered 164 riots.[7] The 1967 Newark riots became, per capita, one of deadliest civil disturbances of the 1960s. The long and short term causes of the riots are explored in depth in the documentary film Revolution '67. The assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. triggered riots across numerous American cities. The 1992 Los Angeles riots, triggered by the Rodney King trial were regarded as the worst in recent U.S. history with deaths estimated at 54 people and nearly a billion dollars in damage caused.

The Stonewall Riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in New York City in June 1969 and has become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention, however, saw the most well-remembered riots in recent US history and were a strong influence towards the eventual American withdrawal from Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. The 2000 Democratic National Convention protest activity made headlines, including the Lakers riot. There was also a riot in Cincinnati in 2001. In the last decade the US has also seen a number of anti-globalization protests, most notable the Seattle protests of the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, also known as the "Battle of Seattle", and the 2005 Toledo Riot.

Canada's single largest riot was the Halifax Riot of VE Day 1945, when several thousand civilians and servicemen rampaged through the city and looted. A Royal Commission blamed the riot on the failure of Naval command to control the sailors.

Police response

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Law enforcement teams wear body armor and shields, and may use tear gas

Riots are typically dealt with by the police (riot control), although methods differ from country to country. Tactics and weapons used can include attack dogs, water cannons, plastic bullets, rubber bullets, pepper spray, flexible baton rounds, and snatch squads . Many police forces, such as the London Metropolitan Police Service, have dedicated divisions to deal with public order situations (see Territorial Support Group, Special Patrol Group, Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, Mobiele Eenheid, Arrest Units).

The policing of riots has been marred by incidents in which police have been accused of instigating or provoking rioting or crowd violence (see Police riot); also, while the weapons described above are officially designated as non-lethal, a number of people have allegedly died or been injured as a result of their use.

National laws against riots

Riot laws: Riot Act, Black Act

England and Wales

Under English law, a riot is defined by the Public Order Act 1986 as twelve or more persons who "together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety". A single person can be liable for an offense of riot when they use violence provided that it can be shown there were at least twelve present using or threatening violence. The violence can be against the person or against property. This carries the possibility of a fine and a sentence of up to ten years' imprisonment.

If there are fewer than twelve people present, the lesser offense of "Violent Disorder" is charged, for which there is a requirement for at least three persons to use or threaten unlawful violence together. This is defined similarly to riot, but no common purpose is required.

In the past, The Riot Act had to be read by an official - with the wording exactly correct - before any policing action could take place. If the group did not disperse after the act was read, lethal force could legally be used against the crowd.

In recent times people have rarely been charged with a Section 1 offense (Riot) in England and Wales. This is because if a Section 1 offense takes place the local police service are regarded as having failed and are liable to pay compensation. The best known example of this is the Poll tax demonstrations of 1990 where nobody was charged with Section 1. All were charged as though a collection of Section 2 (violent disorder involving 3 people) acts had just happened to take place in one location.

Current English law

File:Bastille 2007-05-06 anti Sarkozy 487637091 74ac909b8d o.jpg

Cars are sometimes set on fire during riots

In English Law Riot forms part of the Public Order Act 1986 under section 1.

The Public Order Act 1986 s.1 states:

1) Where twelve or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using unlawful violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot.

2) It is immaterial whether or not the twelve or more use or threaten unlawful violence simultaneously.

3) The common purpose may be inferred from conduct.

4) No person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene.

5) Riot may be committed in private as well as in public places.


  • In the case of riot connected to football hooliganism, the offender may be banned from football grounds for a set or indeterminate period of time and may have to surrender their passport to the police for a period of time in the event of a club or international match, or international tournament, connected with the offence. This prevents travelling to the match or tournament in question. The measures were brought in as the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 after rioting of England fans at Euro 2000.[9]

United States

Under United States federal law, a riot is defined as:

A public disturbance involving (1) an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons, which act or acts shall constitute a clear and present danger of, or shall result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual or (2) a threat or threats of the commission of an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons having, individually or collectively, the ability of immediate execution of such threat or threats, where the performance of the threatened act or acts of violence would constitute a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual.Template:Usc.

As every state in the United States has its own laws (subject to the Supremacy Clause), each has its own definition of a riot. In New York State, for example, the term riot is not defined explicitly, but under § 240.08 of the N.Y. Penal Law, "A person is guilty of inciting to riot when he urges ten or more persons to engage in tumultuous and violent conduct of a kind likely to create public alarm."

See also


  • Blackstones Police Manual Volume 4 General police duties, Fraser Simpson (2006). pp. 245. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-928522-5

Further reading

  • Applegate, Col. Rex (1992). Riot Control: Materiel and Techniques. Paladin Press. ISBN 9780873642088.
  • Beene, Capt. Charles (2006). Riot Prevention and Control: A Police Officer's Guide to Managing Violent and Nonviolent Crowds. Paladin Press. ISBN 1581605188.
  • Bessel, Richard Emsley, Clive (2000). Patterns of Provocation: Police and Public Disorder. Berghahn Books. ISBN 1571812288.
  • Hernon, Ian (2006). Riot!: Civil Insurrection from Peterloo to the Present Day. Pluto Press. ISBN 0745325386.
  • Waddington, P. A. J. (1991). The Strong Arm of the Law: Armed and Public Order Policing. Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198273592.

External links

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