Social Unrest

Key Points

  • Social unrest includes civil disorders, acts of mass civil disobedience, and strikes. They differ in their legality 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 and those in which the perpetrators are focused more on crimes against property. Most of Seattle's disorders have been the latter.

  • Civil disobedience is the nonviolent refusal to obey certain laws as an act of political protest. 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.

  • There are not clear lines differentiating civil disorder, civil disobedience, and strikes. The World Trade Organization (WTO) protests began with acts of civil disobedience then spiraled into civil disorder.

  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) unrest was Seattle's most damaging experience with social unrest. 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.

  • For the past five years, May Day protests in Seattle have routinely exhibited violence or vandalism that requires police intervention.

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

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

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

Read more about Social Unrest

Emergency Management

Curry Mayer, Director
Address: 105 5th Ave S, Suite 300, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34986, Seattle, WA, 98124-4986
Phone: (206) 233-5076
Fax: (206) 684-5998

Newsletter Updates


Sign up for the latest updates from Emergency Management

The Seattle Office of Emergency Management partners with the community to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

During an emergency go to for the latest information
EMERGENCY: Dial 911 | Non-Emergency Police: 206-625-5011 | Non-Emergency Fire: 206-386-1400