REDUCING THE RISKS OF RIOTS
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE—AND KEEPS YOU OUT OF TROUBLE.
Although a few reasons immediately come to mind, there are several reasons that riots or mob violence occur. The first is straight from the evening news and stems from the challenges people face in our urban environments that involve social and political issues, crime and poverty. The second is a situation in which you might find yourself one day: The mood of a crowd you’re in has turned ugly, and some people begin to commit criminal or violent actions. Residents of San Francisco, Vancouver and Ohio State still vividly remember the millions of dollars in damages private individuals and businesses sustained because of “revelers” whose sports team either won or lost a big game during the past five years.
The third, and last, is a scenario that is unfortunately becoming more and more common: People and groups come together for the specific purpose of protesting and showing their discontent with some social or political reality through violent action, destruction of property and disruption of other people’s normal daily activities. Disorderly and aggressive protests of the current political environment are emblematic of this type of group.
A protest, which sometimes turns into a riot, is a complex, organic, living thing made up of many interacting components.
Protesters: These people come together with the desire to exercise their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner.
Rioters: These are people who destroy property, attack people and cause problems for, and challenge, authorities. They might have started out as peaceful protesters but turn aggressive when some event occurs that pushes them outside the bounds of civility. Alternatively, they might have come with the specific purpose of causing mayhem, or they use the protest as an excuse to steal and destroy the property of others.
Victims: These are the innocent bystanders, businesses, and property owners who are victimized by the crowds that are blocking lawful access to—or rioters destroying or ransacking—their property or business.
Law enforcement: Law enforcement personnel usually try to maintain order, protect life and property, manage the chaos that is unfolding and limit its spread and escalation.
Media: This group has historically had the responsibility of reporting the news accurately and without bias. They are not supposed to make the news or favor sides or agendas.
Also, some media outlets tend to filter or slant their coverage to emphasize the outlet’s political and philosophical beliefs. With today’s instant “journalism” fed by Twitter feeds, Instagram videos and real-time Facebook videos, this reporting can have an immediate effect on the unfolding events by inflaming the crowd. Unfortunately, the very presence of the press can change the behavior of people, and physical attacks on members of the media have increased in recent years.
A PROTEST, WHICH SOMETIMES TURNS INTO A RIOT, IS A COMPLEX, ORGANIC, LIVING THING MADE UP OF MANY INTERACTING COMPONENTS.
AVOID IT BEFORE IT HAPPENS
The best way to escape a riot or violent protest is to avoid it in the first place.
You accomplish this with a little advance research and planning and a healthy dose of situational awareness.
Political and social justice activists make good use of the Internet to let people know when they have something planned, so a Web search will often show you what is going on out there. A call to the city hall or mayor’s office for the city you are going to will point you to the agency that manages permits for demonstrations; you can then see if any formal demonstrations are planned. If you are driving, check the major cities along your travel route so you can avoid potential traffic blockades.
If you forget to do this, or something spontaneous pops up, our old friend, “situational awareness,” comes into play. Growing crowds of people in a certain area or intersection; the sounds of police or fire vehicles moving in your direction or near you; and people with signs, masks or other things you associate with protests are all indicators you should be switching from “condition white” to “condition yellow” or “orange.”
If you feel something might happen, take the initiative—even if you feel silly about it—and take a new route around where you think the trouble might take place. If you are like me,
when I see traffic slowing down on my daily commute, I will check my GPS to see what might be causing it and then take a new route the first chance I get to bypass it. Do the same thing when walking or driving in the city.
Another way to get news of trouble as soon as possible is to use social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), through which people tend to share their lives and their world in their posts.
But where do you go? Research has shown that the best strategy is to move along connecting streets and safe alleyways that run at right angles to the location or direction of travel for the rioting. Then move at least a few blocks away before continuing on your way.
If you are stuck in the middle of a block, look for large businesses like hotels or office buildings. These often have entrances on more than one side of the building so you can walk through them to get to the next street over.
If you have time before you visit the area, you should look for possible escape routes from the areas you expect to be in. You should also look for places that could turn into choke points that could slow your movement out of the area or which might be locations where protesters planned to block traffic.
AVOID AREAS WHERE PROTESTERS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT MIGHT COME INTO CONFLICT.
If you have not done this beforehand, and you have a smartphone, use the mapping or GPS function to see what the road network looks like where you are. It can show you the roads and alleys, but it can also show you where traffic is slowed down for some reason and where any accidents are. You want to move away from those areas of congestion if you can.
If you find yourself stuck in a moving mass of humanity and you can’t get to a side street, you have another option: Instead of trying to move against the tide of people, slow your pace with smaller steps, and let it pass you by. Once clear of the crowd, move to the side streets you are trying to get to.
… ABOVE ALL ELSE, KEEP CALM AND USE YOUR BRAIN BEFORE YOU USE YOUR MOUTH OR YOUR BRAWN.
Ideally, you can move away from the trouble and continue to your destination without further issue. But, life isn’t ideal, and you might need to seek refuge from the growing turmoil around you.
Look for sturdy buildings in which you can hide. Preferably, they will have multiple rooms so you can move away from the streetside rooms and their potential dangers.
Resist the temptation to watch what is going on outside to avoid any projectiles coming your way or showing the people outside that there is someone inside. Also, look for another exit in case you have to leave in a hurry and the way you came in is blocked. If you can sense the necessity, prepare to defend yourself by making barricades. Find or make something to use as a weapon, such as a club, staff or knife, in case someone gets in and wants to harm you or take what you have.
BE THE “GRAY MAN”
The last thing you want to do is stick out or look as if you don’t agree with the protesters or rioters. You want to be a “gray *Note: These prices are provided for reference only; all prices are man”—someone who looks like everyone subject to a broad range based on the particulars of the items else, blends in, doesn’t pose any threat selected. and doesn’t draw attention to himself by his look, clothing or actions.
If you can change your clothes to look like those around you, do it. Take off or cover any political slogans, team affiliations or anything else that might say you disagree with what the protest is about.
Stay calm, don’t shout, don’t run, don’t interact with others you don’t need to, and don’t make eye contact unless you are spoken to.
DEALING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT
Interaction with law enforcement is the easiest way to get into trouble if you don’t do it correctly. But doing it correctly isn’t that hard.
If you do interact with law enforcement, whether civil or military, do what you are told, don’t argue (but you should be able to ask appropriate questions politely and respectfully), don’t make any aggressive actions, such as getting closer or taking off your shirt or jacket, and move out of the area as quickly as you can without drawing attention to your exit.
Remember, law enforcement personnel are there to help maintain the peace and to keep you and everyone else safe. They also can’t tell a good guy from a bad guy by their appearances so, if you are not cooperative, they will treat you as a potential bad guy.
Your best bet is to avoid areas where law enforcement personnel are located. There will likely be problems where protestors and law enforcement interact, and you want to avoid problems as you move away from the area where the protest or riot is happening. That is also an area you will most likely find riot-control techniques— tear gas, water cannons and crowd-control maneuvers—being used.
USE OF FORCE
Just because you can use force does not mean that you should! Many might think that because they are armed or have some form of weapon, they should use it when confronted with a rioting or violent mob situation.
The best way to handle any fight is to avoid it if at all possible. Escalating a situation is rarely a good idea. This is especially true when you do not know what your opponent’s capabilities are or how many people you need to defend against.
The riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, demonstrated how quickly one or two looters can grow into a few dozen looters. They also showed how demonstrations can quickly go from peaceful to rocks and bottles being thrown to police cars being burned.
Remember: Stay within the law; don’t escalate the situation.
Common sense and a little proactive planning will win the day if you find yourself in a violent protest or riot situation. Use your smartphone or look at the street map at a bus stop to find roads that lead away from the trouble. If you can’t move out of the area, try to blend in—be the “gray man”— until you can find a safe haven. Avoid areas where protesters and law enforcement might come into conflict.
And, above all else, keep calm and use your brain before you use your mouth or your brawn.
Spend some time now to think through what you might do in these scenarios so you don’t have to come up with a plan in the middle of the action, when your adrenaline is running high. You might even consider studying videos of riots to imagine how you would move and act if you were in a similar situation.
Above right: The presence of the media, in all its forms, can have both positive and negative effects on a crowd. Sometimes, media presence can make things happen, because organizers were waiting for someone to cover what they had planned to do....
Water cannons, such as this one built into a water tanker, are new and effective non-lethal tools available to law enforcement for controlling crowds in both open and confined spaces. (Photo: Wikimedia. org)
If you see people with their faces covered up or wearing protective gear to defend against projectiles such as bricks or from tear gas, you should turn around and leave the area, because those people are prepared for violent actions. (Photo: Wikimedia....
Burnt and upended cars are becoming common sights when protests turn violent in countries all across the globe. It speaks to what a mob can do and that it is not following the normal rules of a peaceful society.
Above: Protests are based on things that people are passionate about. They often end peacefully, but sometimes, they can turn violent due to activists or outside agitators. (Photo: Wikimedia.org) Left: Bean bag shotguns (such as this one with orange...
Above: When protests turn violent, people sometimes take advantage of the confusion to take what they need or want; or they just take anything ... even a selfie. (Photo: Cmgdigital.com)
Right: Rioters stand atop a police car that was attacked and damaged during the riots in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo: Cmgdigital.com)
Not all protests and riots occur in the inner city. This protest was held at a light rail station in a suburban area, where the protestors knew the effect they would have and that the situation would, therefore, attract local media. (Photo:...
Protests can happen anywhere and for a wide variety of reasons. This protest occurred at an airport and inconvenienced travelers as they passed through. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)