Riots Vs. Protest: What’s the Difference?

Rachel Reinke, Senior Editor

   The word riot has a lot of funny connotations describing fun times and people one enjoys hanging out with, but the definition of the word riot is vastly different.

   Ri·ot – noun – a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.

   Although the definition of a riot may seem clear when looking for the definition of the many things that have happened in the last year lines become blurred and you end up with a vast grey area, that tends to create even more discourse as both side of the issue try to define it as one or the other, a riot or a protest.

   The definition of a protest is a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something. These two situations seem like they would be easy to define, to tell apart and separate, but in reality when dealing with human beings it truly is quite hard to decide what is a riot, what is a protest, and what is the thing in between.

   Most riots and protests have many commonalities, such as an underlying message, large gatherings of like minded people, and anger at something too large for one person to handle on their own.

   The difference is destruction. While some protests may block streets and make over all statements well known most tend to stray away from destruction of property and harm to other people. 

   A true protest does not incur destruction to people or property. Look at the 2018 March For Our Lives, a march organized just a month after the Parkland- Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting on valentines day of that same year. Anywhere from 200 to 800,000 people attended and no violence was sparked.

   We see examples of non-violent yet effective protests go back generations upon generations. Look at Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful protests for Montgomery, Alabama. Thousands of black residents marched through rain or shine, protesting by rallying in churches and peacefully protesting to get legislation. These protests lasted over 381 days.

   Now we can look at the events of a riot and how all of that differed from a peaceful protest.

   Take what happened at the capitol for instance. They had the markers of a protest at first, a group of people marching for the same cause, for something they view that the government has done that is unjust and unconstitutional. But what put this situation firmly into the riot category was when people got injured and property started to receive damage from the rioters.