What is Civil Unrest? - Definition & Preparedness

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

In current times, incidents that provoke civil unrest are becoming more widespread. This lesson will define civil unrest and list issues that should be considered in civil unrest emergency response preparedness plans.

A New President

The recent inauguration of Donald Trump as our nation's 45th president has not passed without controversy. While many celebrated President Trump, many others protested his election and inauguration. On President Trump's first official day in office, millions of people protested on the streets of Washington D.C. and other cities around the country and world in what was called the Women's March. These protests were peaceful, but other protests that are sparked by controversial issues or events can sometimes turn violent.

What is Civil Unrest?

Peaceful demonstrations and protests that abide by the law, such as the Women's March, do not constitute civil unrest. Civil unrest is typically defined by law enforcement as a gathering of three or more people, in reaction to an event, with the intention of causing a public disturbance in violation of the law. Civil unrest typically involves damage to property or injury to other people. Some examples of civil unrest incidents within the United States include:

  • The Kansas City Riot of 1968. Rioting took place in Kansas City, Missouri several days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and was sparked when Kansas City police used teargas to stop a student protest.
  • The 1992 Los Angeles Riots. These riots took place in response to an incident of police brutality, which was captured on videotape. Los Angeles police officers used batons to viciously beat Rodney King, an unarmed African American man who they were arresting.
  • Ferguson, Missouri. Sometimes referred to simply as Ferguson, the rioting and unrest that took place here in 2014 were in response to the shooting to death of Michael Brown, an African American youth, by a white police officer.

Civil unrest can occur for a variety of reasons. It can be an organized action or a spontaneous reaction to some type of trigger event, such as those described above. The greater the impact of the triggering event, the greater the probability that the unrest will have a substantial impact.

Preparedness for Civil Unrest Events

Due to the unpredictable nature of civil unrest, law enforcement agencies have in place a preparedness plan that specifically addresses these incidents. Some of the things they might consider in designing such a plan include:

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