What is the Difference Between Rioting and Protesting? How am I Protected if I am Arrested?

The United States is currently in an uproar following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. There have been protests and riots across the country; citizens are exercising their rights against police brutality and racism. Some believe that the police are doing their jobs to keep themselves and everyone safe; others believe police officers target black citizens because of their race and they should have more training. As these protests and riots occur, people are getting arrested for violent acts in support of the cause. Still, U.S. citizens are taking action to spark a difference in police tactics and civil rights.

From a legal standpoint, there is a difference between protesting and rioting. Protesting is a way to express your immense disapproval of something and is a right protected by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Citizens have the right to walk and peacefully protest something they disagree with. The key word though is “peacefully.” If you choose to protest police brutality, support civil rights, or any other belief, you must do so in a peaceful manner. Examples of protests throughout United States history include:

  • The Women’s March on Washington
    • January 21, 2017
    • Approximately ½ million people marched in Washington D.C. for women’s rights, including pro-choice and the right to an abortion.
  • Protest the Iraqi War
    • February 15-16, 2003
    • 10-15 million people worldwide and 4.2 million people nationwide protested Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
  • March on Washington for LGBT Rights and Liberation
    • April 25, 1993
    • 800,000- 1 million citizens marched on the National Mall grounds in Washington D.C. to show support for LGBT rights and fight for new laws against discrimination.

Protesting becomes rioting when violence, such as property damage, weapons use, arson, etc., occurs. Rioting loses the protection of the 1st Amendment and the police have the right to arrest and detain any violent or civilly disobedient person. Even if you do not participate in a riot, you can still be charged with ‘inciting or encouraging to riot’ if you urge others to take part in or plan and coordinate a riot. Famous riots in American history include:

  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. Riot in Chicago
    • 1968
    • The death of Martin Luther King, Jr. sparked riots across the United States, but the central riot was in Chicago. People looted buildings and committed arson, with thousands being injured, arrested, or killed.
  • The Los Angeles Riots of 1992
    • 1992
    • The L.A. Riots began when four white policemen were acquitted for allegations involving the beating of a black motorist. There was more than $1 billion in property damage, with thousands being arrested, injured, or killed.
  • Detroit, Michigan Riots
    • 1967
    • Riots were sparked when police raided a bar and arrested many patrons. Many residents believed they were discriminatory arrests, which led to increased racial tension. This riot lasted four to five days, leading to thousands of buildings being destroyed and many of Michigan’s citizens being arrested, injured, or killed.

There is a fine, and often blurry, line between protesting and rioting, which may end in you getting arrested. Should this happen to you, it would be beneficial to speak with an attorney at Adams & Luka, P.A. to help determine and defend your rights and actions that are protected under the 1st Amendment. If you are charged with a criminal offense, our attorneys will assist you in developing a strategic response to make sure your constitutional rights are upheld and fight for your case in court.

Client Reviews

I would like thank my attorney Thomas Luka. I knew from the beginning I had the right guy in my corner. While celebrating with family and friends at a Public Park in Seminole County, a fight broke out among various people. Myself, and a good friend, broke up the fight and the instigators left. Six months later, I was wrongly accused as the person who started the fight. The first attorney I hired could not even get a response from the State Attorney handling the case. Someone referred me to Tom and I felt comfortable at his demeanor and reactions.

After conversations with Tom, who knew I would settle for nothing less than a FULL DISMISSAL due to my innocence, I hired him. His firm of Adams and Luka did the due diligence by interviewing witnesses and the police who were on the scene, as well as starting a dialogue with the State Attorney. After gathering statements from witnesses, Tom was able to present a strong argument on my behalf to the State Attorney on why the case should be dismissed. If the State Attorney was not willing to dismiss the case, Tom was ready to take the case to trial.

The result by Thomas Luka: Case Dismissed.

I am 53 years old with a spotless record and glad to keep it that way thanks to the time, effort, hard work, and professionalism of the Adams and Luka and Tom Luka.

Earl from Mesquite
Thomas Luka left a life-long great impression of lawyers. He was always professional, on time, and answered things honestly. From the start and during the 14 months it went on - Tom was very upfront and honest with me about the possible outcomes. The result was better than I had hoped for. Tom really over-delivered. HIGHLY RECCOMEND. Marcela Giorgi
Adams and Luka were very professional and savvy in the courtroom. When you're in court with Mr. Luka you will think you have the best attorney there. I recommend this law firm. Pioneer Tech
Rich Adams is an outstanding criminal attorney. I have had the opportunity to refer several friends and clients to his practice for handling of criminal matters, and on every occasion he has produced an excellent result. Rich practices with attention to detail, a thorough knowledge of the law, and a passion to defend his clients. I will continue to refer clients to Rich Adams, and would strongly recommend him for your legal needs. Brian Pink
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