The Difference Between Protesters and Rioters

Felix Romero

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The Difference Between Protesters and Rioters

The year 2020 was a rough year for the United States starting from the Coronavirus all the way to protests and riots across the nation. Some people don’t seem to understand the difference between protesters and rioters even though there are some similarities. Protesters can be peaceful or hateful and sometimes rioters get thrown in the mix blurring the lines between lawful assembly and illegal disorder. Rioters destroy things and try to cause chaos in order to get a point across. Peaceful protests try to get their point across in a peaceful manner by publicly making their opinions heard in an attempt to influence public opinion or government policy. They may undertake direct action in an attempt to enact desired changes themselves. The right to assemble peaceably and protest is protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, the right to riot is not. 

An interviewee who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Protests are meant to be peaceful and it gets out of hand when people think it’s okay to destroy things.” A riot is defined as a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent. Rioters are involved in riots and typically involve destruction of property, public or private. Another difference between them is that rioting is a crime and referring to rioters as protesters infers that their actions aren’t criminal when, in fact, they are. Another person whose name may not be mentioned had this to say about riots, “It’s nonsense and it doesn’t bring about justice, they’re just showing how bad we are as a country.”

The most recent riot that occurred was on January 6, 2021 and it occurred at the US Capitol building in Washington D.C. Many government officials are alleging that former U.S. president Donald Trump told people to attack the Capitol. Not everyone in D.C. was trying to break into the Capitol building, some were there to protest. However some wanted to disrupt the Congressional certification of the election results and attempt to harm some of the Congress officials including the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence.

Many compare the riots to the BLM protests but there are some comparisons and stark differences between the two. When I asked an interviewee what they think is similar between the two they said, “They were both fighting for one person but one for good and one for bad.” During the BLM protests it was a mix of protestors and rioters. There were many people protesting peacefully, and others who wanted to riot, loot shops, and destroy businesses which they thought was justice. Justice is only won by peacefully demonstrating for the cause, not causing chaos because of it. Although the BLM protests occurred throughout the country in major U.S. cities, in contrast the U.S. Capitol riot was specifically targeting a political purpose which was to protest the election results, and for those who breached the Capitol building, to attempt to overturn the election results by force.

Protesting became a big part of 2020 and many believe that it is justifiable, it only becomes unjustifiable when riots occur and that becomes a crime. Protesters and rioters believe that they are fighting for justice, they both believe that what they’re doing is right, it gets to the point where they somehow forget that we are entitled to our own opinion and start to disagree with everyone else’s opinion, which then leads to hatred. Rioters are selfish and don’t care who is affected by the damage, but protesters want to get their point across in a peaceful manner that is protected by the Constitution.