Police riot

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Helmet and baton used by Chicago police officers during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where the term "police riot" was popularized

A police riot is a riot carried out by the police; more specifically, it is a riot that police are responsible for instigating, escalating or sustaining as a violent confrontation. Police riots are often characterized by widespread police brutality, and they may be done for the purpose of political repression.[citation needed] In this sense, a police riot refers to rioting carried out by the police (or those acting in a police capacity) rather than a riot carried out by people who may be motivated by grievances with the police; see the 1981 Toxteth riots or the 1992 Los Angeles riots for examples of riots over policing rather than police riots.[citation needed]

The term "police riot" was popularized after its use in the Walker Report, which investigated the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago to describe the "unrestrained and indiscriminate" violence that Chicago Police Department officers "inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat."[1] During the 2020 George Floyd Protests, columnist Jamelle Bouie wrote in The New York Times that a police riot is "an assertion of power and impunity" that "does more to inflame and agitate protesters than it does to calm the situation and bring order to the streets."[2]


United States[edit]

Haymarket Riot[edit]

During the early years of labor union organizing, police violence was frequently used in efforts to quell protesting workers. One notable incident took place in May 1886, when police killed four striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. in Chicago. The following day, a peaceful demonstration in Haymarket Square erupted in violence when a bomb was thrown, killing eight policemen. Other police then opened fire, before or after they were fired on by people in the crowd (accounts vary) killing at least four demonstrators and wounding an undetermined number, in an event known as the Haymarket Riot; the events have been referred to as a police riot.[citation needed]

Bloody Thursday[edit]

In July 1934, police in San Francisco were involved in several encounters with striking longshore workers. After two picketers were killed, the other area unions joined together and called a general strike of all workers (the "Big Strike"). Subsequent criticism of the police was probably the occasion for the coining of the term "police riot."[3]

Vietnam War protests[edit]

During the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrators frequently clashed with police, who were equipped with billy clubs and tear gas. The demonstrators claimed that the attacks were unprovoked; the authorities claimed the demonstrators were rioting. The most notorious of these assaults, which was shown on television and which included national television reporters in the chaos, took place during the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which was the scene of significant anti-war street protests. The actions of the police were later described as a police riot by the Walker Report to the U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.[4]

White Night Riots[edit]

On May 21, 1979, in response to early demonstrations and unrest at San Francisco City Hall following the sentencing of Dan White for the killings of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, members of the San Francisco Police Department descended on the Castro District. With tape over their numbers they destroyed a gay bar and indiscriminately attacked civilians. Many patrons were beaten by police in riot gear, some two dozen arrests were made, and a number of people later sued the SFPD for their actions.

Tompkins Square Park police riot[edit]

In August 1988, a riot erupted in Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side of New York City when police, some mounted on horseback, attempted to enforce a newly passed curfew for the park. Bystanders, artists, residents, homeless people, reporters, and political activists were caught up in the police action that took place during the night of August 6–7. Videotape evidence, provided by onlookers and participants, showed seemingly unprovoked violent acts by the police, as well as a number of officers having covered up or removed their names and badge numbers from their uniforms. The footage was broadcast on local television, resulting in widespread public awareness. In an editorial The New York Times dubbed the incident a "police riot."[5]

1999 Seattle Protests[edit]

The term police riot has been applied by some to the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, where police clad in riot gear used clubs, tear gas and projectiles to disperse groups of protesters.[6][7][8]

2014 Ferguson protests[edit]

During the Ferguson unrest, police clad in riot gear used clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of protestors in Ferguson. Long Range Acoustic Devices and armored vehicles were heavily utilized to subdue protestors, and police threatened journalists and human rights workers on the scene. Some sources and observers described the event as a police riot, though the police denied any wrongdoing or police riot.[9][10][11][12]

George Floyd Protests[edit]

Police were accused in multiple cities of instigating unprovoked violence with persons who protested the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Democratic Socialist Virginia State Rep. Lee J. Carter criticized police actions as a "police riot."[13][14][15]

Videos from multiple cities showed police using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on protestors. In Seattle, a line of police officers attacked a crowd of protestors when a protestor wouldn't relinquish her umbrella.[16][17] In Richmond, Virginia, police ended four days of peaceful protest by attacking protestors with pepper spray; police later admitted it was an "unwarranted action" and mayor Levar Stoney apologized, saying "we violated your rights."[18]

United Kingdom[edit]

Battle of the Beanfield[edit]

During an attempt to enforce an exclusion zone around Stonehenge, Wiltshire, in 1985, the police entered the field where a group of travelers known as the Peace Convoy were being detained and began damaging their vehicles and beating the occupants.[19] The travelers eventually sued the Wiltshire police force for wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage.[20]

Hong Kong[edit]

2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Summary of the Walker Report, http://www.fjc.gov/history/home.nsf/page/tu_chicago7_doc_13.html
  2. ^ "The Police Are Rioting. We Need to Talk About It". The New York Times. June 5, 2020. Retrieved June 6, 2020.]
  3. ^ Walker, Samuel (1977). A Critical History of Police Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism. Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-669-01292-7.
  4. ^ "The Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial: Historical Documents: Walker Report summary". Federal Judicial Center. Archived from the original on February 24, 2017.
  5. ^ "Opinion | Yes, a Police Riot". August 26, 1988 – via NYTimes.com.
  6. ^ Anderson, Rick (December 9, 1999). "Protesters Riot, Police Riot: The Mayor and the Police Chief Gambled and Lost During the WTO". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  7. ^ Solnit, David (July 30, 2008). "The Battle for Reality". Yes! Magazine. Archived from the original on January 1, 2020. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  8. ^ Feffer, Richard S. (2008). Mainstream and Alternative News in Seattle: A Comparative Media Frame Analysis of WTO Protest Coverage (Master's thesis). Illinois State University.
  9. ^ Weiler, Jonathan (August 15, 2014). "American Police State(s)". Huffington Post.
  10. ^ "Snapshot: Prelude to a Police Riot". The Nation. September 1, 2014. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  11. ^ Cameron, Dell (August 14, 2014). "Journalists livetweet their arrests by Ferguson Police". The Daily Dot.
  12. ^ Reeser, Andrew (August 15, 2014). "Moment of silence, rally held in Greenville in wake of MO shooting". WFSB Eyewitness News 3.
  13. ^ Solnit, Rebecca (June 1, 2020). "As the George Floyd protests continue, let's be clear where the violence is coming from | Rebecca Solnit" – via www.theguardian.com.
  14. ^ Pierce, Charles P. (June 1, 2020). "All Weekend, All Over the Country, We Saw a Police Riot". Esquire.
  15. ^ Carter, Lee [@carterforva] (June 1, 2020). "The concept of a police riot is a new one for a lot of people, but we're living through a national one right now. t.co/w17a5S0qFv t.co/ipuIJSqVi2" (Tweet). Retrieved December 25, 2020 – via Twitter.
  16. ^ Converge Media [@WWConverge] (June 2, 2020). "#Flashpoint on Capitol Hill - @MayorJenny @komonews @KIRO7Seattle @KING5Seattle @Q13FOX @seattletimes @jseattle @AP t.co/WMoDd76A16" (Tweet). Retrieved December 25, 2020 – via Twitter.
  17. ^ "Slog AM: Police Pepper Spray Protesters Over Pink Umbrella, Escalating Fourth Day of Police Brutality Protests". The Stranger.
  18. ^ "Richmond mayor apologizes to angry crowd after police tear gassed protesters ahead of curfew Monday". June 2, 2020.
  19. ^ Ed. Andy Worthington, 2005, The Battle of the Beanfield, Enabler Publications, ISBN 0-9523316-6-7
  20. ^ Written 1995, Jim Carey /. "A Criminal Culture?". Dreamflesh.