The Difference Between Protests and Riots

Julianna B., Writer

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Recently, numerous protests broke out at UC Berkeley due to the scheduling of a controversial speaker. These protests were infiltrated by a group of people who turned peaceful protests into riots during which they set of a car-bomb and threw fireworks at police officers who were stationed on campus. This article is not to talk about whether or not the school was in the right for canceling the speaker but to offer an informational article about the difference between protests and riots.

According to NBC news, the university released a statement, saying: “The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest.” The article then went onto report that people were attacked, subsequently causing six people needing treatment for injuries.

Many professional news organizations including NBC, ABC and TIME labeled these actions as “protests” while displaying pictures of fire from the bombs that went off at the college campus.

Although some organizations (one being CBS) have named these events “riots,” the majority of articles that come up on Google news when you search ‘UC Berkeley’ use the word protest instead of riot.

While the contrast between these two words may seem like a small issue, recognizing the difference between a protest and a riot is important. A protest is a peaceful public display of displeasure or disapproval, usually carried out by marching, chanting and/or holding signs with messages on them while a riot is a violent public disturbance.
What started at U.C. Berkeley was a protest: people gathered and used their words to show that they did not support a speaker that the school was going to host. What the 150 masked people started was not a protest; it was a riot. The rioters threw fireworks at police and set off a car-bomb; they were not demonstrating their 1st amendment rights — they were committing acts of terror. It is important that in the future, news organizations properly label riots and protests to ensure they share correct information with the public.

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