riot

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riot

Hunting the indiscriminate following of any scent by hounds

riot

  1. (in English law) the use of unlawful violence on the part of at least twelve persons, in a way which would make ‘a person of reasonable firmness’ afraid for his or her safety.
  2. (in sociology) large-scale public disorder involving violence to property and violent confrontation with the police.
Many sociological studies have been published in Britain in recent years, following urban unrest in St. Paul's, Bristol in 1980 and in many other towns and cities in the spring and summer of 1981 and autumn of 1985. No one cause has been accepted as the key to understanding why the unrest occurred, but a number of issues have been singled out as important. One of these is the term ‘riot’ itself. Many commentators have argued that the term is so loaded, morally and politically – involving only the viewpoint of the authorities – that it is specifically useless. Thus many have preferred to use more neutral phrases, like ‘urban unrest’, ‘popular protest’ and ‘public disorder’.

The first type of explanation of riots tends to be of conspiracy, or the influence of outside agitators. So, in the Brixton and other disorders of 1981, political agitators were blamed; in the case of Handsworth in 1985, the police argued that the disorders were organized by drug dealers in order to protect their profits. These types of explanation have a history as long as the history of popular protest. Social historians have given accounts of magistrates and police responses to riots in the 18th and 19th centuries which bear an uncanny resemblance to official and media views of those in the 1980s. Sociologically, these explanations are interesting as ideological constructions. They are rarely proven, but usually serve to deflect attention from underlying social problems and tend to absolve the authorities from any responsibility for the occurrences.

Turning to sociological and related explanations of riots in Britain (except for policing strategies, Northern Ireland must be seen as a separate case), there have been a number of influences on theorizing of which perhaps the most important have been social historians’ accounts of British riots in previous centuries and US sociologists’ explanations of unrest in US cities in the 1960s. Most explanations have also involved some kind of dialogue with the Scarman Report (1981). Scarman's main arguments about the causes of the 1981 unrest concerned material conditions in the areas involved: unemployment, housing, work and other opportunities, together with heavy-handed and confrontational policing, exemplified in a 'stop and search’ operation, ‘Operation Swamp ‘81’, which immediately preceded the unrest. His arguments are in line with sociological work on a number of counts, particularly in his rejection of conspiratorial ideas and emphasis on the reality of the problems faced by the ‘rioters’. A number of strands have been variously emphasized by sociological researchers. These can be listed under four main headings:

  1. material conditions – all the major outbreaks of disorder occurred in localities with much higher rates of DEPRIVATION than average;
  2. POLICING – in virtually every case the first target of unrest was the police. Often disorders followed a specific police operation (e.g. in Bristol 1980, Brixton 1981, and Handsworth 1985) or were associated with high levels of policing. This situation was further complicated by;
  3. RACE – initially several police representatives and politicians gave racist accounts, making arguments about alien cultures, etc. Sociologists have tended to emphasize the importance of the ethnic dimension in different terms. It has long been argued that black people have been subjected to a process of criminalization (see Hall et al., 1978), and that institutionalized RACISM is a persistent and inflammatory problem (Policy Studies Institute, 1983). See also ETHNICITY;
  4. marginalization and ALIENATION – in some respects the existence of these is seen as particularly relevant to black British people, but their implication is wider (see Lea and Young, 1983; Hall, in Benyon and Solomos, 1987). The basic argument is that where people are effectively excluded from processes of political and cultural representation, where effective channels for expressing grievances are closed to them and they perceive a general indifference and even hostility to their situation, they may engage in violent unrest as the only means of expressing their anger and making their situation known, even when this may be likely to prove counter-productive. See also MARGINALITY.

All sociological explanations reject the view that unrest is simply ‘irrational’ or inspired by criminal or political conspirators. They also tend to play down arguments about the ‘copycat effect’, which would reduce explanations to the role of the MASS MEDIA in publicizing and amplifying riots (see AMPLIFICATION OF DEVIANCE). They emphasize that there are identifiable causes, found in the living conditions of the people involved, and understandable in rational terms as responses to those conditions. Compare COLLECTIVE BEHAVIOUR.

Riot

Attica
city in New York housing state prison; one of the worst prison riots in American history occurred there (1971). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 182]
Birmingham riots
melee resulting from civil rights demonstrations (1963). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 585–586]
Boston Massacre
civil uprising fueled revolutionary spirit (1770). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 57]
Boston Tea Party
colonists rioted against tea tax (1773). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 341]
Chicago riots
“police riot” arguably cost Democrats election (1968). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 625]
Donnybrook Fair
former annual Dublin county fair; famous for rioting and dissipation. [Irish Hist.: NCE, 784]
Germinal
conflict of capital vs. labor: miners strike en masse. [Fr. Lit.: Germinal]
Gordon, Lord George
leader of the anti-Catholic riots of 1780, in which the idiot Barnaby is caught up. [Br. Lit.: Dickens Barnaby Rudge]
Haymarket Riot
Chicago labor dispute erupted into mob scene (1886). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 297]
Kent State
Ohio university where antiwar demonstration led to riot, resulting in deaths of four students (1971). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1466]
Little Rock
capital of Arkansas; federal troops sent there to enforce ruling against segregation (1957). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1594]
Luddites
British workers riot to destroy labor-saving machines (1811–1816). [Br. Hist.: NCE, 1626]
Molly Maguires
antilandlord organization; used any means to combat mine owners (1860s, 1870s). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 272]
New York Draft Riots
anticonscription feelings resulted in anarchy and bloodshed (1863). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 429]
Riot Act
the reading it to unruly crowds, sheriffs under George I could force them to disperse or be jailed. [Br. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 767]
Shays’ Rebellion
armed insurrection by Massachusetts farmers against the state government (1786). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2495]
Watts
district in Los Angeles where black Americans rioted over economic deprivation and social injustices (1965). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1612–1613]
Whiskey Rebellion
uprising in Pennsylvania over high tax on whiskey and scotch products (1794). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2967]
References in classic literature ?
Spanish moss dropped from the gracefully bending limbs, and enormous creepers clambered in riotous profusion from the ground to the loftiest branch, falling in curving loops almost to the water's placid breast.
In the foreground were box-bordered walks, smooth, sleek lawns, and formal beds of gorgeous flowering plants, while here and there marble statues of wood nymph and satyr gleamed, sparkling in the brilliant sunlight, or, half shaded by an overhanging bush, took on a semblance of life from the riotous play of light and shadow as the leaves above them moved to and fro in the faint breeze.
This troop, the only defence of the prison, overawed by its firm attitude not only the disorderly riotous mass of the populace, but also the detachment of the burgher guard, which, being placed opposite the Buytenhof to support the soldiers in keeping order, gave to the rioters the example of seditious cries, shouting, --
There was McMann, who ran up a single bar-room bill of thirty-eight thousand dollars; and Jimmie the Rough, who spent one hundred thousand a month for four months in riotous living, and then fell down drunk in the snow one March night and was frozen to death; and Swiftwater Bill, who, after spending three valuable claims in an extravagance of debauchery, borrowed three thousand dollars with which to leave the country, and who, out of this sum, because the lady-love that had jilted him liked eggs, cornered the one hundred and ten dozen eggs on the Dawson market, paying twenty-four dollars a dozen for them and promptly feeding them to the wolf-dogs.
We walked across the fringe of beach under the cocoanut-palms and into the little town, and found several hundred riotous seamen from all the world, drinking prodigiously, singing prodigiously, dancing prodigiously--and all on the main street to the scandal of a helpless handful of Japanese police.
But he could well stand it, for it seemed to add a certain nobility of refinement to the riotous excess of life that had always marked his features.
And so he bids him and his companions depart, just as any other father might drive out of the house a riotous son and his undesirable associates.
The sturdy hind now attends the levee of his fellow-labourer the ox; the cunning artificer, the diligent mechanic, spring from their hard mattress; and now the bonny housemaid begins to repair the disordered drum-room, while the riotous authors of that disorder, in broken interrupted slumbers, tumble and toss, as if the hardness of down disquieted their repose.
As to private considerations, I confess that if these vagabonds WOULD make some riotous demonstration (which does not appear impossible), and WOULD inflict some little chastisement on Haredale as a not inactive man among his sect, it would be extremely agreeable to my feelings, and would amuse me beyond measure.
In the dock at the city's Magistrates' Court was Gary Kirkwood, of Island Street, who was charged with riotous behaviour at Bryson Street.
20AM Christopher Guest and Michael McKean score a perfect '11' in Rob Reiner's riotous hoax - the original 'rockumentary', if you will - detailing a comeback tour by full metal eejits.
Following unrest near the Springfield Road, a 28-year-old man was charged with riotous behaviour and attempted criminal damage and an 18-year-old with riot and assault on police.