When Protests Go Wrong: What We Can Learn From Recent Protests & Riots

Contributed by Lawrence Lease

The right to protest is an integral part of a well-balanced democracy, but recent protests throughout the United States have shown just how volatile these situations can be. Everything from property damage and mass arrests to the illegal use of force are now becoming commonplace in the news, and the single most powerful weapon that a citizen can have during these situations is knowledge about their own rights and responsibilities.

Protests Are Both Important & Volatile:
The first thing that recent protests have shown us is that they are not only an important tool for disgruntled citizens, but they are exceptionally volatile. The average protest does not involve some miniscule disagreement that can be corrected with a single vote or law. Protests are generally the result of major ideological beliefs or human rights being violated. When these topics come up, there is a fine line between a legal right to protest and anarchy or violence.

Protests & Riots Are Faceless:
A few key leaders will always stand out during any public discussion, but it does not take much for a mob of people to become a faceless entity. Anyone involved in a protest should realize that law enforcement officials will quickly begin to see a large mass of outraged people as a faceless and potentially dangerous group. Even if the protesters operate well within their rights, it should be understood that emotions will run high, and this means that mistakes can and will be made on both sides.

Are Protestors Protected By The Law?
All citizens have a constitutionally-protected right to protest, but there are situations in which they may knowingly or unknowingly break the law. When this happens and issues such as property damage, injuries or deaths take place, then it is vital for everyone involved to immediately seek out legal help. These events are exceptionally complex and the most miniscule of details will not only ensure that victims are protected, but that innocent parties are not targeted by the law. 

When Protests Become Riots:
The word “riot” is used quite a bit, but in legal terms it means a public assembly of three or more people that are carrying out or threatening to carry out violence towards people or property. It does not take much for a protest to devolve into a riot, and even peaceful protesters are often grouped in with illegal rioters. Those that are injured or have their property damaged are often unsure of who to blame or even where to turn to for assistance.

Whatever side of a protest or riot you may happen to be on, it is always advisable to seek out professional legal representation. These complex and convoluted situations must be carefully scrutinized in order to ensure that the rights and safety of all law-abiding citizens are protected.