10 Pivotal Moments That Ignited Riots

by Staff Writer

As England's government tries to regain control of London's youth, the world continues to question the events that led up to the outbreak of the nation's wildest riots in decades. Most widescale chaos like this involves years of increasing tension surrounding certain issues, but there's always one incident that pushes the mob over the edge. Some of the last straws seem trivial, while others are obviously maddening. Here are 10 of those pivotal moments that got out of hand and led to deadly riots.

  1. Police killed a man in London

    The riots that have exploded across London started in the northern area of Tottenham when police killed a 29-year-old named Mark Duggan. Duggan was a known offender and was being followed by police on Aug. 4, 2011. The police claim that when they moved in to arrest Duggan, he fired at them, hitting and wounding an officer. The police then shot the man. Many doubts, however, have surfaced about whether the man was even armed. When police refused to give details to his family members, about 300 people gathered in front of the police station to demand justice for his death. This community protest quickly escalated into full-out riots, with looting, Molotov cocktails, and unimaginable damage. Many speculate the underlying issues involve the high rate of unemployment for young adults and race tension.

  2. Police officers were acquitted in Rodney King's death

    In Los Angeles in 1992, three white police officers were acquitted in the death of Rodney King, who had died after a police chase and reportedly being brutally beaten by the officers. The jury's verdict enraged thousands of people across the city, and they rioted for six days. Several motorists were pulled from their cars and beaten by angry mobs, and crowds set fire to buildings and vehicles. The danger was so great that the mayor set a curfew and closed schools and businesses. U.S. Army soldiers and Marines were called to the city to help restore order. When all was said and done, 53 people were dead, 2,000 were injured, and L.A. had $1 billion worth of damage to repair.

  1. The Bible was going to be taken out of public schools

    In today's world, Americans would protest if a daily Bible reading was going to be added to school curriculum, but in 1844, the rumor that Catholics were trying to take the Bible out of public schools led to a deadly riot. Known as the Philadelphia Nativist Riots, the violence originated when nativist groups began the no-more-Bible rumor in a time of rising anti-Catholic sentiment. At a nativist rally on May 6th, the Irish-Catholic immigrants squared off against the nativists. The riot resulted in 14 people dead, 50 injured, and two Catholic churches destroyed. And these Americans didn't learn their lesson; other riots broke out later in the year between the same groups.

  2. Two boys were electrocuted

    In 2005, some boys were playing near a power substation in a Paris suburb. Police were called to investigate a break-in at a construction site, and the boys fled when they saw the police, thinking they were being chased and would be interrogated. Two of the boys ran into the power substation to hide and were electrocuted. Their deaths led to riots lasting almost three weeks across France with roots in the population's frustration over rising unemployment and police harassment. Nearly 9,000 vehicles were burned in the chaos, and about 2,900 rioters were arrested by police. French President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency to try to restore order. In the end, 274 towns were affected by the riots and at least one person had been killed.

  1. A man didn't pay for his wig

    The famous Boston riot in 1770 that is now known as the Boston Massacre started with a misunderstanding over a wig. Of course there was building tension between colonists and British soldiers, but the event that triggered the deadly chaos involved a wigmaker's apprentice who accused a soldier of skipping out on payment for his hairpiece. The soldier denied it, and the apprentice eventually went to get a posse of colonists to confront the man again. The crowd began to grow, and though the colonists originally threw harmless snowballs at the soldiers, some eventually used clubs to hit them. The soldiers then fired into the crowd, killing five rioters and injuring others. Is that where the term "wig out" comes from?

  2. A mosque was demolished

    One of the deadliest riots in history occurred in Mumbai, India, in 1992, often referred to as the Bombay riots. It began when the Babri Mosque was destroyed during a Hindu political rally, though it's still unclear whether the demolition was planned or the rally just got out of hand. The leveled mosque outraged Muslims, many of whom blamed Hindus for the act and rioted against them. Many Hindus were killed in brutal ways, which caused a Hindu backlash against the Muslims, keeping the rioting going for weeks. When the smoke cleared, an astounding 900 people had been killed by police gunfire, stabbings, arson, and other horrendous acts.

  1. The draft started for the Civil War

    During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln passed stricter laws on who could be drafted to fight. Because black men weren't considered citizens, they couldn't be entered into the draft. Combine this with the fact that many white, working-class men felt their jobs were being threatened by black workers and that wealthy people could buy their way out of the draft, and you've got some unhappy guys. During draft week in 1863, after the new laws had been enacted, riots broke out, first with men attacking government buildings and then escalating to assaults on black men and apparent sympathizers for a week. About 120 civilians were killed because some men would rather risk dying in the streets than on a battlefield.

  2. The Rolling Stones were too awesome

    At the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969, the audience had been listening to music and consuming their drugs of choice all day. By the end of the festival when the Rolling Stones took the stage to perform their set, the crowd began to get unruly and pushed their way to the front and tried to get on stage. During the band's "Sympathy for the Devil," some fights broke out. By the performance of "Under My Thumb," the crowd grew even rowdier and after one man was kept off the stage by security guards (who were Hells Angels being paid in beer), the man drew a gun. He was stabbed and then stomped to death by the Hells Angels. The Rolling Stones, unaware of the killing, kept playing through their set because they were afraid the disorder would explode if they quit early. And they ended the night appropriately with their song, "Street Fighting Man."

  1. Police crashed a party

    When police raided an unlicensed bar in Detroit in 1967, they thought there were only going to be 20 or so people there. They found 82 people throwing a party for two returning Vietnam veterans. The cops decided to arrest all the party-goers and attracted a crowd as they led them from the establishment. This crowd turned into a full-scale riot, complete with looting and fires. Despite the news media's lack of reports on the rioting, the turmoil spread throughout the city. Michigan State Police, the National Guard, and paratroopers were called in to control the violence. Much of the disturbance is blamed on the dissatisfaction of the black community with services provided to them, like education, housing, and employment. In the end, 43 people died and more than 7,000 were arrested.

  2. The Canucks lost the Stanley Cup

    Canadians take their hockey very seriously. This year wasn't the first time that the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup loss resulted in riots in the streets. In 1994, the Canucks lost in Game 7 to the New York Rangers, and about 60,000 people gathered in downtown Vancouver. The group was peaceful, though upset, to begin with, but things got out of hand when a man fell from a street lamp and police tried to escort the paramedics through the crowd. When people tried to take the officers' bicycles and surrounded the police and paramedics, the crowd was told to disperse and a riot squad was brought in. They dispersed tear gas throughout the crowd. Though no one died in the rioting, about 200 people were injured; one guy was even in a coma with permanent brain damage after being hit by a plastic bullet. Pretty violent for Canadians, eh?


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