Riots: An American Tradition


Some peaceful, docile, European rioters.

The United States has a brutal history of domestic violence. That domestic violence has often taken place in the form of riots. Riots seem to be universally condemned, but they actually have a long and effective presence in our country.

What Is A Riot?

A riot is legally defined as a public disturbance involving (1) an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons, which act or acts shall constitute a clear and present danger of, or shall result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual or (2) a threat or threats of the commission of an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons having, individually or collectively, the ability of immediate execution of such threat or threats, where the performance of the threatened act or acts of violence would constitute a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual. 18 U.S.C. § 2102
Riots typically involve vandalism and the destruction of property, public or private. The property targeted varies depending on the riot and the inclinations of those involved. Targets can include shops, cars, restaurants, state-owned institutions, and religious buildings.

Why Riot?

Riots often occur in reaction to a perceived grievance or out of dissent. Historically, riots have occurred due to poor working or living conditions, governmental oppression, taxation or conscription, conflicts between ethnic groups, or religions the outcome of a sporting event or frustration with legal channels through which to air grievances.

Successful Riots

The nation has hosted popular, successful uprisings fueled by everything from racial tensions and electoral disputes to tax complaints and wartime hardships. Most of these small-scale skirmishes ended with only a brief flash of bloodshed, but they often had far-reaching consequences for local governments, civil rights and even federal laws.
Courtesy of
Wilmington Insurrection – On November 10, 1898, 2,000 armed white men took to the streets of the Southern port town of Wilmington, North Carolina. Spurred on by white supremacist politicians and businessmen, the mob burned the offices of a prominent African-American newspaper, sparking a frenzy of urban warfare that saw dozens of blacks gunned down in the streets. As the chaos unfolded, white rioters descended on City Hall and forced the town’s mayor to resign along with several black aldermen. By nightfall, the mob had seized full control of the local government, some 60 black citizens lay dead and thousands more had fled the city in panic.
While it took the form of a race riot, the Wilmington uprising was actually a calculated rebellion by a cabal of white business leaders and Democratic politicians intent on dissolving the city’s biracial, majority-Republican government. Once in power, the conspirators banished prominent black leaders and their white allies from the city and joined with other North Carolina Democrats in instituting a wave of Jim Crow laws suppressing black voting rights. Despite its illegality, state and federal officials ultimately allowed the power grab to proceed unchecked, leading many historians to cite the Wilmington insurrection as the only successful coup d’etat in American history.
Battle of Athens – In 1946, a group of veterans and disgruntled citizens went to war with the local government of Athens, Tennessee. The small farming community had spent the 1940s dominated by a crooked political machine led by sheriff and legislator Paul Cantrell, who was known to rig elections in his favor through ballot stuffing and voter intimidation. Corruption ran rampant until 1945, when hundreds of young men returned to Athens fresh from the battlefields of World War II. After they experienced repeated harassment by law enforcement, the ex-GIs organized their own political party and ran several veterans for local office in the hopes of ousting Cantrell and his cronies once and for all.
The “battle” unfolded during a tense Election Day on August 1, 1946. When the veterans’ accused Cantrell of vote fraud, armed sheriff’s deputies began beating and detaining the GI’s poll watchers, and one officer even shot an elderly voter in the back. After Cantrell and his deputies confiscated the ballot boxes and barricaded themselves inside the local jail, hundreds of ex-GIs armed themselves with high-powered rifles and laid siege to the building. The two sides traded fire throughout the night, leaving several men wounded, but the deputies finally surrendered after the veterans began lobbing dynamite at the jailhouse. When the votes were counted, the GI candidates were declared the winners and immediately sworn into office. Their upstart political party would go on to restructure local government and clean up much of the corruption in Athens.

Kwaisi France

An 80's baby forged in the 90's and unleashed upon the world in the 21st century, Kwaisi France is a Baltimore raised Brooklyn resident.

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