Should the people arrested for rioting be released without charges?


Fact Box

  • Rioting is defined as a violent disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent [1].
  • Since the beginning of this country, riots and violent rhetoric have been markers of patriotism [2].
  • Every single one of the 36 St. Louis looters and rioters arrested were released back onto the streets. They were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, burglary, causing property damage, stealing and assault. They range in age from 17 to 36 but the majority of them are teens and people in their 20s [3].
  • Most states have their own laws relating to rioting. A person who has been charged and convicted or acquitted under state law cannot be prosecuted for the same acts under federal laws. State laws apply to anyone present in the state for the commission of the criminal act [4].
  • Over the weekend, 1,500 rioters were arrested in Chicago, most not facing serious charges. Only a fraction of the thousand-plus arrested over the weekend were even presented by police for possible serious felony charges [5].

William (Yes)

Police brutality is once again in the limelight after George Floyd’s unfortunate passing in Minneapolis. Protests quickly spread across the country spurring riots, but a significant portion of these rioters find themselves subject to arrest. Considering the context of their detainment, they should be released without charges, but not without consequences. 

Time and time again, rioters opt for more effective actions to avoid being silenced, especially with the numerous police brutality victims recently [1]. These individuals are risking their own life during a pandemic to make their voices heard, and although there are civil protests, the riots are instrumental in raising awareness [2]. With positive intentions, the rioters are “stretching” their rights rather than committing crimes; many individuals will never riot without just cause. In fact, affected corporate businesses themselves have shown support for the riots and their causes [3]. But although our police institutions are flawed, rioters are indeed taking actions that by definition are illegal, and it is hard to escape the reality that the police have every right to arrest rioters when caught [4]. However, the more libertarian stance of fining—not criminally charging—rioters for their mild actions of property damage and civil disobedience carries significant consequence and also proves to be more pacifying between law enforcement doing their duty and people exercising their rights [5]. In times of disconcert, it is inevitable that we look for compromises, and by only discovering a common ground is how this nation can get back onto its feet. 

Stephanie (No)

Rioters using violent methods to protest George Floyd’s death and for the Black Lives Matter movement may have been doing so with the intent to enact positive change. However, many individuals acted criminally in doing so and deserve any charges associated with their crimes.

Yet that is not what occurred last week when many arrested for “felony rioting” [1] were “released without criminal charges” [2] or released “not facing serious charges” [3].

Doing so poses a potential safety risk that could promote riot violence in the future, as it implies that partaking in such may not result in consequences, especially if done in large groups.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt highlighted this concern in saying of those involved, “It emboldens them. There have to be consequences to that and we’re just not seeing that from the local prosecutor” [2].

This is not unreasonable considering that apprehended individuals were not peaceful protestors. Out of over 1,000 who were arrested in Chicago, “832 were [for] disorderly conduct” [3], and in St. Louis, “charges included misdemeanors and felonies for burglaries, property damage, assault, interfering with arrest, stealing and trespassing and unlawful use of a weapon” [2]. In Washington D.C., a man breached “two security barriers” and made an attempt to “enter the White House complex, against the will of the United States” [4].

Charges against these crimes are necessary, as felony rioting “creates grave danger or injury to property or persons” [1]. Holding those accountable can also be viewed positively, as it provides justice to those negatively affected by it, such as business owners whose stores were looted and police officers who have been hurt and downright disrespected. 

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