Mob Violence: A History of Unlawful Protest

Mob violence history

Footage of a shooter firing into a crowd during the Charlottesville, VA protests made the rounds on news outlets and social media at the end of August 2017.

Video was captured and sent to police by the ACLU after this man’s actions allegedly went unnoticed in the crowd. The shooting captured in the video comes in the wake of other racially motivated violence in Charlottesville.

The actions in Charlottesville have their precursors in mob violence from the last several years. This includes riots that have broken out all over the country in the last 50 years or more.

Before that, since the Emancipation Proclamation following our country’s Civil War, our country has a shameful history of mob violence in the form of lynchings.

Mob violence, described as “A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner” is not new to this country. We began our proclamations of liberty by forming mobs and violently protesting.

The State of Michigan and Mob Violence

What can we make of this tendency to break out in violence? Let’s take a look at what the State of Michigan has to say about mob violence.

According to Section 752.541, it is illegal for five or more people to act together to engage in violent conduct to intentionally or recklessly cause a serious risk of public terror or alarm.

In Section 752.542, inciting a riot is also a crime. It includes intending to cause a riot, to aid or abet the start of a riot, to maintain a riot or to encourage others to riot. Rioting is often described as, but is not limited to:

  • Committing illegal violent or forceful acts.
  • Destroying or burning others’ property.
  • Interfering with police, firefighters, National Guard members or other public safety officers who are attempting to keep the peace.

In Michigan, if you are convicted of rioting, you will be facing felony penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. In addition, you could be charged with unlawful assembly. It is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Grievances of the past led to what we now see as the justified Civil Rights protests of the 1960s. These protests were not protected by law.

In fact, Dr. King himself went to jail many times for protesting “unlawfully.” He, and others like him, recognized the law as being unjust and suffered the consequences for breaking the law in order to change it. The civil rights protesters were committed to non-violence.


In conclusion, what do you think? How do we, as a nation, change a law which we feel to be unjust? Particularly for groups of people who have less power to affect change? Would the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s have been as effective if they had been carried out in violence like the more recent protests breaking out around our country? How can we change the pattern of violence we’re seeing in recent times?