riots and civil disobedience

riots and civil disobedience
   Civil disobedience occurs when a person or group feels morally compelled to publicly break the law, usually without using violence, and is prepared to face the full consequences of the legal system. It is considered justifiable if the law is unjust and there is no other effective means of opposition. Conservatives view civil disobedience as going against the need to maintain law and order, as it encourages selective acceptance of laws and is against the sovereignty of a democratically elected parliament. It is contended that civil disobedients act according to the highest ideals of the law and are not above the law.
   Civil disobedience has occasionally proved successful, as when London dockers went on an illegal wildcat strike and suffered imprisonment to defeat the Industrial Relations Act of 1971. Civil disobedience defeated government in the 1980s when rallies organized by the And Poll Tax Federation and their campaign of public nonpayment resulted in the scrapping of the community charge (see poll tax).
   The dividing line between civil disobedience and rioting is indistinct, as civil disobedience can coerce violent reprisals which may be responded to in the same manner. Organized protests are sometimes aimed to precipitate violence, as with the National Front demonstrations of the 1970s against coloured immigration and counterdemonstrations by the radical left.
   Riots occurred in twenty-seven urban areas in the summer of 1981. Race was a factor in all the riots. The first riot was in Brixton, an area with a high concentration of immigrants and 55 percent unemployment amongst 16–18-year-old blacks. Street crime was high, so police had instigated a stop-and-search policy which antagonized local people. The riot lasted for two days, with firebombs and looting. In Toxteth, Liverpool, deprivation was worse and riots lasted for six days, with white youths joining and eventually outnumbering the blacks. The other ‘copycat riots’ had the common characteristics of occurring in deprived urban areas characterized by high unemployment, immigrant settlement and aggressive and racist policing. Government response to riots has been to give the police power to ban potentially violent demonstrations, to arrest protesters for the offence of disorderly conduct under the Public Order Act 1985, and to encourage more community policing. These measures have not been entirely successful, as riots have continued to occur in the inner cities in the 1980s and 1990s.
   See also: direct action
   Further reading
    Harris, P. (1989) Civil Disobedience, Washington, DC: University Press of America.
   COLIN WILLIAMS

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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