From protesting to rioting

Protesting is a cumulation of citizens exercising their First Amendment right, but when does a peaceful protest turn into a riot? To answer that question, it is important to know the difference between a protest and a riot.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a riot and a protest are two different things. A protest is a complaint or objection, while a riot is a violent or disorderly confrontation.

In recent months, protests and riots have been featured in every major newspaper and blog. Some of the most famous protests include the Women’s Suffrage parade in 1913 on D.C., Civil Rights march on Selma 1965, and most recently the Women’s March the day after President Trump’s inauguration that occurred around the world.

Though many of these marches aim to be peaceful and maintain some type of organization, violence can erupt through confrontation between protesters, bystanders, and police.

A riot, according to Merriam-Webster, is similar, but there is one factor that is drastically different.

“Public violence, tumult, or disorder, a violent public disorder, specifically tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent,” Merriam-Webster states.

Riots are violent in nature and simply aim to disrupt and deface public and private property. Those who partake in riots can be arrested or subdued by various police tactics.

Prior to the Inauguration, over 600 groups had applied for permits from the city to legally protest in the streets. Many people do not realize that permits are required for protests in public spaces.

Elizabeth Rivette, a junior at USD, was at the Women’s March in D.C. She recalled the event as peaceful and inspiring.

“It was incredible; people were smiling and happy,” Rivette said. “[The protesters] were peaceful and not aggressive in any way. The cops only really put up fences to protect the protestors from the cars on the street, and when the protestors were getting too close to the back of the White House. The funniest thing I heard from a cop was when he turned to another cop and said, ‘Yeah, we can expect four long years of this.’”

Jimmy Hussey, a sophomore at USD, attended the Inauguration and passed several protests as he made his way toward the National Mall. Many of the protests he passed were peaceful, but some were overshadowed by others.

“There were so many people that were voicing legitimate complaints and were peacefully protesting, but their message was drowned out by the verbally aggressive protesters who shouted their opinions above everyone else’s,” Hussey said. “I saw the rioting police yelling and marching toward the protesters that were yelling back, but I left before things started to get violent.”

The United States Law Library of Congress outlines the steps to peaceful protest.

Many protesters were permitted to assemble in protest on Inauguration Day, though others were not.  One group of individuals smashed the windows of Starbucks and Bank of America, torched a limousine, and graffitied anarchy signs around the city.

As anarchists, these individuals claim no allegiance to a single organized group, but they all showed up with the same intentions using the same technique. “Black bloc” is a technique where rioters dress is all black, wear masks to conceal their identity, and shatter windows, using anything at their disposal leaving destruction in their wake. They embed themselves into other protests, such as J20Resist, the large protest on Inauguration Day that began at Union station and according to their Facebook page over 3,000 people went to protest on Inauguration Day.

While peaceful protests can end in violence, the difference between a protest and riot lies within the intent of the assembly. USD students saw both sides of this issue on Inauguration Day; it is likely that  protests and riots will continue to make headlines across the nation.

Peaceful Protest, according to the U.S. Law Library of Congress:

– Organizers must apply for, and obtain, a permit from the local police department/local governmental body.

– Localities can also impose additional requirements for permit applications,

including event details and organizer information.


Written by: Jennifer Givens, Assistant Feature Editor