The difference between a protest and a riot

Race in America

CHICAGO (NewsNation) — As demonstrations continue around the country, NewsNation sought to answer this question: at what point does a protest become a riot? Our research team breaks down the information:

What is a protest? What is a riot?

Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, every American has the right to protest. It falls under the right to free assembly.

A protest becomes a riot when one or more people in a group engage in criminal activity, including purposely damaging property or causing physical harm to another person. 

Who decides when a protest becomes a riot?

There are no national standards when it comes to declaring a riot. In many larger police departments, like New York City, a ranking official on the scene makes the determination. In other cities, elected officials will direct law enforcement. 

What is the appropriate type of force to stop a riot and clear the crowd?

There is a standard practice called “the use of force continuum.” 

That means law enforcement officials can use force that is equal to or greater than the threat. For example, if a person threatens an officer with a knife, the officer could use a gun to protect himself. 

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