Riots display human beings acting at their worst. Usually the result of political or social turmoil, most riots rely on killing, raping, looting and widespread destruction to get their point across. After examining the tolls that riots take on society, we have to wonder whether this is an effective way to bring about change. Below are the accounts of the 25 worst riots of all time. These stories may shock and appall you.
1. Brixton riot (1981)
The riots that erupted in Brixton, London were some of the worst the UK has ever seen. On the evening of April 12, police arrived at the scene of a stabbing to question the young, black victim. As they tried to get him into a car to take him to the hospital, civilians tried to intervene. The police were attacked, but eventually managed to quell the situation. Because of the incident, police increased their numbers patrolling the streets. The very next day, angry citizens began to pelt police cars with bricks, and rioting broke up. When all was said and done, 279 police and 45 civilians were injured, over one hundred cars were burned, 150 buildings were damaged and thirty were torched.
2. LA Riots
On April 29th, 1992, a jury acquitted two white police officers for charges of the videotaped beating black motorist Rodney King. As a result of this verdict, thousands of citizens rioted for six days. Mass amounts of looting, murder, arson and assault took place, resulting in over a billion dollars in total damage, and the loss of 53 lives.
3. Detroit Riot of 1967
When police performed a raid on a Detroit after hours drinking club, they found 82 people holding a party for two returning Vietnam veterans. The police arrested all of these people, and this resulted in widespread rioting. The riots began in the northeast section and spread to the east over the course of five days. Widespread looting, fires and murders took place, and the situation got so bad that the National Guard and the 82nd airborne division were mobilized to quell the violence. When it was over, 43 people were dead, 1189 were injured and over 7000 people were arrested.
4. Watts Riots
In August of 1965, police pulled over a motorcyclist believed to be intoxicated. The driver, Marquette Frye failed to pass a sobriety test and was arrested. As the police ordered to impound the cycle, a crowd slowly began to form. Dozens grew to hundreds who began throwing rocks at the police. Racial tensions grew over the course of the next couple days until a violent riot broke out claiming the lives of 34 people and injuring 1,032.
5. 2007 Nairobi, Kenya Riots
Political unrest turned into deadly rioting in what has been called the biggest threat to East Africa’s most stable democracy. Citizens of Nairobi, Kenya believed that the reelection of Mwai Kibaki was a sham, and some of the most violent rioting in history ensued. From Nairobi to the Coast, hundreds were killed and buildings were burned by machete wielding rioters. Club carrying police officers tried to restore order by firing tear gas and live bullets into the immense crowds. Crowds moved across villages, torching buildings, raping women and killing. Hundreds fled in fear from this violent demonstration of human beings at their worst.
6. Gujarat Riots
In September of 2008, a Muslim mob attacked and burned a train. The mob also threw rocks onto the train to prevent passengers from escaping. Riots resulted from the attack claiming the lives of thousands. Most tragically, over 600 children were orphaned when all was said and done. These figures don’t take into account the 223 people reported missing and assumed dead.
7. 1981 Belfast Riots
Protests in Belfast, Ireland took a different form than what we have examined so far. Irish republican prisoners felt that the prison guards had been unreasonably violent toward them and tried to carry out a “dirty protest”, refusing to wash and covering their walls in excrement. Apparently this did not get the results they had hoped for, so they decided to try a hunger strike. Ten people starved themselves to death over the course of the 53-day strike until guards complied with their demands.
8. Serbia Riots
On Monday, October 13, 2008 riots broke out over Serbia’s decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence. The Serbs called the decision treasonous and proceeded to throw flares and other destructive objects at state buildings. Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowds of thousands of angry rioters.
9. Tulsa Race Riot
In 1921, America witnessed the worst example of racial violence in history. When a white female elevator operator claimed that a black man has sexually assaulted her in the elevator, violence broke out. The man fled the scene and a manhunt begun for his capture. This precipitated a riot that claimed the lives of hundreds of people. The rioting got so bad that the opposing sides of blacks and whites, many of whom were WWI veterans, began forming battle lines and digging trenches, waging a makeshift war against each other. Overall, 35 city blocks were destroyed by fire, leaving 10,000 homeless and causing estimates of 1.8 million (this would amount to 21 million in today’s money).
10. 1844 Philadelphia Nativist Riots
In May of 1844, Nativist groups began spreading rumors that the Catholic Church was planning on removing the bible from schools. This rumor fueled the anti-catholic tensions that were the result of the growing population of Irish immigrants. The tension broke and riots erupted at a Nativist rally on May 6th. The violence caused the destruction of two Catholic churches, the burning of many homes and buildings the deaths of fourteen people and the injury of 50 more.
11. Hippodrome Revolt
Chariot Racing was a huge sport in the Roman Empire, and its spectators took team affiliation quite seriously. When it came to be that two chariot racers (one of them a member of the blue team and one a member of the green team) were taking refuge from the law in a church, an angry mob surrounded the church. Emperor Justinian was very nervous about the situation and had to postpone the race a couple of days. On the day of the race the massive crowd of spectators began throwing insults at Justinian and chanting “Win!” and “Conquer!” The crowd eventually turned violent and began tearing apart the palace. This inevitably ended with the imperial troops taking the Hippodrome by storm and killing over 30,000 rioters. This was the most violent riot that Constantinople had ever seen, and when it was over, half the city lay in burnt ruins.
12. 2005 Civil Unrest in France
From October to November of 2005, a series of riots and violent demonstrations raged throughout the streets of France. When police were called to a construction site to investigate a possible break in, three teenagers fled, apparently thinking they were being chased. The teens hid in a power station. At some point that night, the boys were electrocuted and two of them were killed. This broke pre-existing tensions over the supposed history of police brutality, and the riots began. Cars were burned, buildings were set ablaze, hundreds were injured and one lay dead before order was restored. Over-all property damage was estimated at just under 200 million dollars.
13. The Boston Massacre
The incident started when a wigmaker’s apprentice, Edward Gerrish, complained to local army British soldiers that a man named John Goldfinch had not paid his bill. Goldfinch ignored these claims, but Gerrish returned later with a small crowd. The tension grew. The crowd grew, shouting insults at the soldiers, and as the evening grew later an estimated 300-400 people surrounded the troops and pressed them into a tight circle. The soldiers fired their muskets under duress and killed five colonists.
14. The Plague Riot in Moscow, 1771
When the Bubonic Plague struck Russia, the government took extreme measures to try and contain the outbreak. These measures included closing most public buildings including stores and schools, and a small food shortage. Outraged, the citizens of Moscow planned a massive uprising. On September 16th 1771, a riot broke out and captured the Donskoy Monastery where Archbishop Ambrosius was hiding. He was captured and killed.
15. Bristol Bridge Riots
In 1793, the government of Bristol England wanted to raise tolls for the Bristol Bridge and demolish several houses nearby to make room for more roads leading to it. The citizens responded by forming a huge riot. 11 people were killed and 45 were injured. The Bristol Bridge riot goes down as one of the worst riots of the 18th century.
16. Bloody Monday
On August 6th of 1855, riots broke out in Philadelphia spawned out of an intense rivalry between the Democrats and the Know-Nothing party. Rumors began spreading that the Catholics were interfering with the fair voting process and a street fight broke out. The riot grew in size and twenty-two people were killed. Many more people were inured in the riot than were killed and property was destroyed on a large scale.
17. New York Draft Riots
From July 11 to July 16, 1863, a time also known as draft week, riots broke loose in the streets of New York City. Outraged by new laws passed by Abraham Lincoln, thousands of citizens gathered to protest the draft for the civil war. Lincoln sent the army in to quell the rioters who, at the time, were burning public buildings and killing each other. When the riots were over an estimated 120 civilians were killed and property damage was estimated at about 1 million dollars.
18. Chinese massacre of 1871
The Chinese massacre of 1871 was a racially charged riot that claimed the lives of between 18-23 Chinese residents of Los Angeles. Over 500 Whites and Latinos stormed Chinatown and proceeded to carry out viscous attacks on the block. Reports have it that almost every residence and building on the block was ransacked and any Chinese person was brutally beaten.
19. Bombay Riots
In December of 1992 some of the worst riots of all time occurred in the city of Bombay, India. After the demolition of the Babri Mosque, two distinct phases of rioting took place. The first phase involved the Muslims striking the Hindus as a result of the demolition of the mosque, and the second was a Hindu backlash against the Muslims. Over all about 900 people were killed in these riots. As with most riots, arson and theft were also prevalent.
20. New Mexico Penitentiary Riot
The New Mexico Penitentiary riot was one of the most violent prison riots America has ever seen. The prison was drastically understaffed and heavily overcrowded. On February 2nd, 1980, the prisoners began taking guards as hostages and rioting broke loose. These guards were brutally beaten and raped by their captors. By the morning of February 3rd all hell had broken loose. Gangs were fighting rival gangs, dangerous criminals being held in solitary confinement had escaped and were exacting revenge on other criminals, and prisoners were being pulled from their cells to be beaten, raped, killed and burned. The National Guard soon set up refugee tents outside the prison, which, due to deliberately set fires, began to burn down. Many prisoners fled for safety to the camps and it wasn’t long until the National Guard entered the prison to assess the damage and take a body count. Over all, there were 33 confirmed deaths and 200 injuries.
21. Louisville riots of 1968
In the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, much of the country was in civil unrest. In May of 1968 in Louisville Kentucky, a group of around 400 African American civilians gathered at the intersection of 28 and Parkland to protest the possible reinstatement of a white police officer convicted of beating a black man only a few weeks prior. The situation only got worse as rumors that SNCC speaker Stokely Carmichael’s plane scheduled to arrive in Louisville was being intentionally delayed by whites. Bottles began to be thrown and, before long, rioting broke loose. Stores were looted, fires were started, cars were overturned and two teenagers were killed. Police were powerless to stop the angry mob and it wasn’t until the National Guard arrived on scene that the rioting ceased.
22. 1968 Chicago riots
In April of 1968, another riot caused by tensions following the assassination Martin Luther King struck a 28-block section of Chicago’s west side. The riots were mainly focused on West Madison Street. Arson, looting and killing took place, and Mayor Daley banned the sale of guns and flammable materials. Over all over 10,000 police and 5000 troops were sent to disperse the riot. In the end, 11 people were killed and over 125 fires had been set.
23. 1967 Hong Kong Leftist Riots
When pro-communist demonstrations against the British rule took place in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong police attempted to intervene. The leftist communists called for strikes against the police, and riots broke loose. The leftists became even more violent by planting bombs around the city and killing news reporters who disagreed with their opinions. In the aftermath of the riots, 51 people lay dead, 5000 were arrested, and millions of dollars of damage had been caused.
24. 2006 Aligarh Riots
On April 5th 2006, in Aligarh India, rioting broke loose as a result of the Muslim community removing decorations from a Hindu temple. Six people were killed as a result of the riots and 68 people were arrested. Since the riots, curfews have been unsuccessfully established in Aligarh.
25. 2001 Riots in Argentina
In Argentina, President Fernando de la Rúa was viewed as the cause of a three-year recession in the country. The middle class eventually decided that they had enough of the economic conditions and began rioting on December 19 and didn’t stop until December 20th. Twenty-six people were killed in the riots and widespread looting took place.
And one last riot worth mentioning just for fun…
26. Quiet Riot
Quiet Riot was an early 1980’s hair metal band featuring guitarist Randy Rhodes. Quiet Riot was a short-lived phenomenon boasting a couple of noteworthy songs including “Come On Feel the Noise”, and “Bang Your Head.”