How do we describe what’s going on?
From newsrooms, to social media posts, people have had to characterize this widespread, evolving unrest. For the first time, many of us are experiencing turmoil in our own city, and there are a lot of questions. Are we experiencing protests? Or riots?
What are Protests?
The actual term “protest” is not formally defined in the U.S. Code, but generally speaking, it’s an organized public demonstration of disapproval towards some law, policy, idea, or state of affairs. Under the First Amendment, everyone has the right to engage in peaceful protest, however, the Supreme Court has established that governments may limit protests through specified restrictions, such as: time, place, and manner. These restrictions are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and are formulated to allow demonstrators ample channels by which to communicate their message.
What are Riots?
Legally speaking, the word riot is a loaded one. While it aptly describes some of happenings over the past two weeks, using it risks eclipsing the bigger picture that started the said movement. In general, the word riot connotes meaningless violence, which relates more with drunk sports fans, frenzied consumers, and people that have given into baser instincts. The word suggests pandemonium.
The Difference Between Them
What separates a protest from a riot is the level of public disturbance involving an act or acts of violence by one or more individuals part of an assemblage. Even so, the term “riot” is still used uniformly in the mass media to capture the sense of chaos, doom, and the fact our country is coming apart at the seams. These events can be violent, and have led to razed buildings, arrests, and injuries; but using the word “riot” would obscure the disparities that preceded the upheaval and sideline the fact that some of the businesses that were burned down actually mistreated those individuals or were the center of injustice.
In order to legally determine between a protest and a riot is to look at the laws in your own state. For example, many states and municipalities have their own laws against rioting based on similar definitions, while others prohibit the criminal elements, such as: destruction of property, arson, looting, assault, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, unlawful assembly.
Protests and riots have different outcomes but have the potential to lead to societal change.
Knowing the distinctions can protect your life and others, but if you have been affected by crime due to rioting—we have got you covered.
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