Social Unrest

Key Points

  • Social unrest includes civil disorders, acts of mass civil disobedience and strikes differ in their legality, morality and tactics (especially the use or avoidance of violence), but all are acts by groups of people that are intended to disrupt a community or organization.

  • Civil disorder is a public disturbance by a group or groups of people involving acts of violence that cause immediate danger, damage or injury to others or their property. They are often but not always politically motivated. They are both illegal and violent.

  • Civil disorders can be divided into two rough categories: those in which the perpetrators deliberately set out to harm others (e.g., a lynch mob) and those in which the perpetrators are focused more on crimes against property. Most of Seattle's disorders have been the later type.

  • Civil disobedience is the nonviolent refusal to obey certain laws as an act of political protest. Civil disobedience has been associated with some of America's most admired figures, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Even so, it is an effort to put pressure on a governmental body and often does so by disrupting the functioning of society. Civil disobedience is illegal but non-violent.

  • Strikes are collective work stoppages by employees designed to force an employer to meet employee demands. Most strikes are legal and peaceful, but they can be both illegal and violent.

  • The lines between civil disorder, civil disobedience and strikes are fuzzy. The World Trade Organization (WTO) protests began with acts of civil disobedience then spiraled into civil disorder.

  • The World Trade Organization unrest was Seattle's most damaging disorder. For five days in late 1999 police battled protesters in downtown and Capitol Hill. There were no fatalities, but the economic disruption was significant and the unrest was a serious blow to the city's reputation.

  • Disorders often occur in dense areas where people naturally gather and crossroads areas. In Seattle, downtown, Capitol Hill and the University District have seen the most frequent civil disorder.

  • Looting and arson are the most common crimes in Seattle's civil disorders.

  • Rock-throwing, sniping and other severe personal assaults have not been common in Seattle disorders, but they have occurred. They are not expected to be frequent threats in the future.

  • Reputation damage has been a major impact to some areas hit by civil disorders, but Seattle has not seen major, lasting reputation damage.

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