What is a riot? 4 things you should know


A riot is defined in most states as “a lawless act engaged in by three or more persons and accompanied by violence and a breach of peace.” But there are many aspects to a riot that should be examined to determine the type of riot that is taking place.

The history of rioting in the United States seems always to be painted along racial lines. It is widely assumed that blacks riot because they are black and oppressed. But this is a naïve way of thinking. Fifty years ago, noted behaviorist Edward C. Banfield shared that there are four main types of models for riots in his book The Unheavenly City Revisited:

The rampage- Which can be an outbreak of youthful spirit such as after a major sports victory. We have seen this across racial spectrums with mostly young white crowds rioting.

The foray for pillage- This is when there is a significant disruption of law enforcement and people take advantage of the situation. The offenders are mostly young but there may be working class individuals who participate. These people may never have stolen in their life but feel that “everyone else is doing it” or “it will just go to waste”. As well as the criminal element who organize to exploit the situation for their ongoing illegal activities. But riots are seldom started by thieves.

The outburst of righteous anger- The rioters are motivated by what they regard as injustice or violation that is likely to go unpunished. It reaches across social classes and at its beginning has no set leadership. But riots such as this type or channels of social change as it exposes the injustice and forces the power structure to address the issue. The reaction of the power structure to this type of riot can be a tipping point towards a spiral of unnecessary violence or show of force. This reaction is evident in Ferguson, MO with an over militarized police force deploying modern battlefield weaponry and mine resistant armored personal carriers in a black community.

The demonstration- In this instance the riot is planned and has leadership. The purpose is to put forward a political agenda and to cause change. A good example of the demonstration riot is when mostly white anarchists take to the streets to disrupt major global political events such as the meeting of world leaders in a city.

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