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Analysing the cause and effect of Urban Riots

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1660 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Riots are civil disorders that are characterized by intense violence against people in authority or property. Since it is a herd behavior occurrence, many people take part and this leads to civil unrest. They usually occur as a result of a perceived grievance which people feel has not been adequately dealt with. The are many reasons as to why riots occur including; poor living conditions, oppression by the government, high taxation, ethnic diversity, religion or differing views of a sporting activity. Mostly, riots are accompanied by violence, vandalism and destruction of both private and public property. This can also be directed to a certain specific targets according to grievances on people’s minds (Gilje 2).

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In the United States of America, many riots took place during the Civil War and which saw many lives lost. As years progressed, new types of riots emerged as well as their cause. In 1960’s, a new form of riots called urban Riots came in to being. In 1967 for instance, more than 120 cities in the U.S suffered more than 160 riots.

The most notable among urban riots was the Newark riots of 1967 and Stonewall Riots of 1969; each of which had various reasons for its outbreak. In general though, between 1964 and 1971, there were about 752 spontaneous riots especially in black communities occurring in 316 American cities. Many of these conflagrations were however exaggerated by the media with only the major ones as already discussed having severe magnitude in terms of violence, arson and property damage.

In exploring the various causes of such urban riots, many social scientists have advanced different theories. Among these reasons are racial grievances and competition for jobs in the inter-ethnic setups of communities. Further, in a search for answers as to why cities could experience racial riots of varying magnitudes, scholars usually focus on broad trends.

Mainly they pinpoint the high unemployment rate amongst the blacks which they relate to cities or the whole nation as a whole. But it is evident that they ignore the local factors which too may provide more insight in to the causes of urban riots. This therefore led to a number of analysts confining their research on the event itself and the surrounding circumstances such as police mobilization (Gilje, 10).

Based on this concept, it is important to find the effect of police presence and its effect on the magnitude or severity of an urban riot. The urban riots of 1960’s were somewhat escalated by the intervention of the federal government. But this should not be misconstrued to imply that local and state place agents did not play any part.

Eventually, upon studying a number of riots that occurred, it emerged that police response has a major impact on the nature of a riot. The timing so as to ensure there is not under-response or over-response is vital as police presence will determine the end result.

It is also evident from history that many of American urban riots had a connection with racism. In many occurrences, such riots were initiated by the whites and were directed to blacks. This trend however changed in the 1960’s when the roles were reversed and blacks found themselves initiating urban riots.

The most notable of these include the Rochester race riot of 1964. This riot took place in Rochester, New York on Friday evening of July, 24th when the Rochester Police Department tried to arrest a nineteen year old intoxicated black on a street. The police after having been notified of him responded with a dog and since rumors of police brutality had spread quickly, an angry crowd formed on Joseph Avenue.

This was followed by violence that lasted for three days leaving a trail of destruction. Statistics finally recorded 4 dead, 35 injured, 1000 arrested and 204 store houses looted. It later emerged that the local, especially the “good kids” had initiated the riot which the adults joined in later. This was further fueled by the fact that many African-Americans had low pay and low skill jobs and they used violence to cast their personal grievances (Wasow, web).

The Philadelphia race riot of 1964 was in similar manner black-initiated. From August 28th to 30th, the black neighborhood of North Philadelphia erupted as they accused police of brutality. The Philadelphia Police Department had over the years tried to improve it relationship with the black majority, 400,000 in number, by patrolling the city in twos; one black and one white officer. Unfortunately, one black woman, Odessa Bradford, engaged a patrol squad in to an argument after her car had stalled on Columbia Avenue. As the two police officers attempted to force her to remove the car, a crowd formed and came to the rescue of Odessa.

Due to crowd herding mentality, rumors started to flow that white police officers had mistreated a pregnant woman and thus violence ensued. The police response took a turn and instead of confronting rioters, they retreated and left the area. Final statistics showed 341 injured, 774 arrested and 225 stores looted or damaged in the course of three days. The urban riots left the North Philadelphia city without many vital businesses as many businessmen never returned.

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All in all, there were other urban riots which started due to racial segregation circumstances through out the 1960’s. Their cause and eventual destruction of both property and live had similar characteristics as the already discussed ones. These included: Watts Riots in 1965, Hough Riots in 1966, Racial Tension in Omaha in 1966, Newark riots in 1967, Chicago Riots in 1968 and the 1969 North 24th Street Riot in Omaha. One thing that made these urban riots among many others to stand out is the large number of participants as well as the effects they finally caused. Statistics however show that despite the escalation of black-initiated urban riots in the 1960’s, the number of occurrences decline at the turn of the decade.

Government commissions that were formed to seek the cause of the riots indicated that majority of riots in the 1960’s and early 1970’s were due to racial grievances and deprivation. A commission that presented the Kerner Commission Report indicated that these riots were an aftermath of prior white discrimination of blacks and hence was unavoidable.

Between 1970’s and 1980’s urban riots continued in many American cities albeit marked with less and less casualties like in the sixties. However, this did not remain for long since in 1992, a significant form of riots broke out in Los Angeles. These riots which started on April 29, were as a result of a beating Rodney King, a motorist, received in the hand s of Los Angeles Police Department officers.

The prelude can be traced back to March 3, when King and two passengers were driving on Foothill highway. Upon being stopped they refused but chose to speed of under what transpired to be a high speed chase by traffic cops. The presence of five LAPD officers made the case worse since they had beaten King with batons on his arrest. This was in contrary to a video shot in this event which showed that LAPD officers continued to beat King instead of cuffing him as was in law. The also accused him of having been under influence of PCP which later test proved untrue.

The video which had been shot by a neighbor as he witnessed the beatings became a focal point in the media after presentation in the court case. The five LAPD officers were charged with assault and use of excessive force. This was not however to be as some influential whites doctored the case as it was about to come for deliberation. They then proceeded to acquit the LAPD officer of assault and use of force but one. This ruling as it was heavily publicized by the media drew mixed reaction even from the president.

After the verdicts, riots began in Los Angeles and continued to escalate despite the presence of National Guard, the Army and the Marines. Over the next few days numerous acts of violence and looting were recorded as well as personal engagement among the law enforcers, the blacks and the whites. They included beatings received by Reginald Denny, a white truck driver by blacks an incident recorded live on television. This was followed by Fidel Lopez severe beating and possible killing of him though he was rescued.

The second and third day too were marked by widespread riots and massive destruction even after law enforcer’s numbers were increased. Many important American figures were also drawn in to numerous debates as well as begging for end of hostilities. Order started to flow back from the fourth day but not after massive destruction in the city had occurred. The final statistics recorded 53 dead, 2,000 injured, material loss of approximately $ 1 billion, and over 3,000 arson cases destroying more than one thousand buildings.

The factors that led to Los Angeles riots were cited including a fatal shooting of a black teenager by a Korean American. Others included cultural differences, high unemployment among the residents of Central Los Angeles due to recession and poverty. Sociologists on their part cited disparity in economic growth as a cause which led to powerlessness and frustration among urban dwellers.

In conclusion, riots have continued to wreck havoc on the society and the general order of things. From the many instances that have been recorded in history it is clear that they have causes and if dealt with properly, urban riots can be avoided. The government must therefore put in measures to ensure there is equal employment opportunity for all people regardless of their racial background. Social institutions which promote unity and shun segregation also need to be encouraged in order to avoid urban riots (Dreier 52).


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