Protesting vs. Rioting: What’s the Difference?

Protests continue around the country after the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. In some cities, such as Portland and Seattle, police have declared riots and many protesters have been arrested. The situation has sparked many conversations around the country, but one point has become especially pressing. What is the difference between a protest and a riot, and how can you tell when a protest has become a riot?

Protesting in the United States

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the rights of those that want to peacefully protect in the United States. A protest provides a way for people to raise their voices when they strongly disagree with a certain topic, usually one that is politically based.

The First Amendment states that Congress is prohibited from creating a law with respect to the establishment of religion, or that infringes on a person’s freedom of speech or the freedom of the press. The First Amendment also protects the right of the people to assemble, and to ask the government to rectify their grievances.

Under the First Amendment, people have the right to peacefully protest something in society that they disagree with. However, the protest must be peaceful. Some examples of the most recent peaceful protests have been the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, and the protest of the Iraqi War in 2003. Many of the protests that have been occurring more recently around the country have largely been peaceful. So, when does protesting become rioting?

Rioting in the United States

A protest may turn into a riot when it involves the destruction of property, the use of weapons, or when it results in people becoming injured or killed. Once rioting begins, people are no longer protected by the First Amendment. If law enforcement has determined that rioting has begun, they have the right to detain any individual they find is being civilly disobedient or violent. Some of the most famous riots in American history include the riots in Chicago and throughout the rest the country after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

The line between protesting and rioting often becomes blurry. Protests always have the potential to become riots and when they do, peaceful protesters are often confused for rioters and face arrest, even though they did nothing wrong. When this is the case, it is crucial to speak to a civil rights lawyer that can help you regain your freedom.

Have You Been Arrested? Call Our Florida Civil Rights Lawyers Today

At O’Mara Law Group, our Orlando civil rights lawyers understand that individuals have the right to peacefully protest a situation they want the government to correct. If you or a loved one has been arrested after peacefully protesting, we can help. We know how to defend your rights and prove that law enforcement was overzealous in their attempt to make arrests. Call us today at (407) 634-6604 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.


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