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  • Norman Young

Non-violent Riots Are Bad

Ask any American and they will tell you that they support protests, but that they condemn riots. I'm here to tell you that these Americans are wrong. They love a good riot. What they dislike—or, at least, what they will always say they dislike—is violence.

"But riots ARE violent!" I hear you object.

Legally speaking, that's true. According to the Anti-Riot Act of 1968, a "riot" must include "an act or acts of violence by one or more persons." But, hold on. The federal government doesn't get to define words for us, does it? Aren't legal definitions (see: "female," "insanity," "marriage," etc.) often at odds with clear, precise, and descriptive speech?

The purpose of the law is to circumscribe government action, not facilitate civilian communication. It's certainly a good thing that the Anti-Riot Act limits federal action to riots that are violent. After all, riots that have not yet become violent, or are cut short before violence occurs, do not need a forceful federal response. But, just like when we’re testing for cases of COVID-19, we should allow ourselves to recognize when a disease is present even if it fails to manifest deadly symptoms.

Once a mob of people has taken to the streets to vent emotional frustration, a riot has already begun. The disease is present, regardless of whether the symptoms have progressed to the point of violence.