“In a crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual but in a crowd, he is a barbarian.” Gustave Le Bon’s words spoken in 1895 still ring true today as chaos erupts in Baltimore, Ferguson and across the globe.
The first known riot happened in 44 BC, when an incensed mob attacked the houses of Brutus and Cassius in response to the assassination of Julius Caesar. As with what incensed these angry Romans, most riots are sparked as a result of long suppressed racial, cultural or political tensions and civil unrest.
While that doesn't make the ensuing violence and destruction any less acceptable, the passion behind the actions are at least understandable. The following list falls into a completely different category. These are sad examples of the fact that sometimes even the most unremarkable moments can be a catalyst for chaos, and that some people will use any excuse just to flip over a porta-potty.
7 New Hampshire 2014: The annual pumpkin festival
In October of 2014, Keene New Hampshire residents were looking forward to the upcoming 24th annual Pumpkin Festival. The festival, which had set a new world record the year before for their display of 30,581 lit jack-o-lanterns, was usually a source of pride for the small town just northwest of Boston.
That was until it was shut down by police in riot gear wielding pepper spray and tear gas in an attempt to quell an angry mob of people. According to reports, a large group of university students numbering in the thousands began throwing rocks, bottles and cans, lighting bonfires and destroying property.
Many cars were flipped over, others had their windshields smashed and four lamp posts were actually pulled out of the ground on the Keene State campus. The police log for that night states that one group of students threatened to beat up an elderly man while another group made several death threats to armed officers.
The senseless riots that went on throughout the night resulted in 140 arrests and more than two dozen injuries.
6 Huntington Beach 2013: Throwing a ketchup bottle
Surfing enthusiasts are known for their chill, relaxed natures so it was a bit of a surprise when a riot broke out during the 2013 US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, California.
Apparently spawned when someone was hit with a ketchup bottle, the incident quickly escalated to unruly beachgoers rocking cars, turning over portable toilets and smashing storefront windows.
Eight people were arrested and officers had to use tear gas and nonlethal rounds to break up the crowds. Sadly this is not the first time a riot has broken out at a surfing event in Huntington Beach. In 1986, a dozen people were injured and 13 were arrested when crowds stormed a lifeguard station and began overturning and burning police cars during the Ocean Pacific Pro Surfing Championships.
5 New York City 1977: The lights went out
On July 13th, 1977 a lightning strike to a substation on the Hudson River caused a massive blackout. This was a bad time for the entire city to fall into darkness; New York was facing bankruptcy and morale was already at an all-time low because of the worst economic conditions the city had ever seen.
Rioting and looting began almost immediately after the blackout began, with 1,600 stores suffering damage, over 1,000 fires being set and 550 police officers reporting injuries.
Despite the fact that jails were already overcrowded, 3,776 people were arrested and precinct basements doubled as makeshift cells. A congressional study later estimated the damage caused by the looting and vandalism during the blackout was $300 million.
4 Vancouver 2011: A sports team lost
It was game seven of the Stanley Cup finals and Canada’s hopes were dashed when the Boston Bruins triumphed over the Vancouver Canucks. Instead of crying in their beer and looking forward to next year, thousands of disgruntled fans took to the streets of downtown Vancouver and began overturning and setting cars on fire, vandalizing stores and brawling.
Police showed up in riot gear armed with tear gas, batons and pepper spray, and in the end 140 people were injured, more than 887 criminal charges were laid, and the city suffered more than $5 million in damages.
3 Boston 2004: A sports team won
In 2004, Bostonians were elated when their beloved Red Sox won the World Series, their first title in 86 years. The police were on high alert, knowing that 60,000 to 80,000 enthusiastic and adrenalin-pumped fans would soon spill out onto the streets and cause a little havoc.
But havoc soon turned to horror when police cars were set alight and shops were trashed. Riot police were soon drafted to ebb the flow and in the midst of the chaos a young student was fatally shot in the head with a police projectile by an officer trying to quell the crowds. A reporter for a local Boston paper later said, “Seeing the damage done by that day was one of the saddest episodes I have encountered in my time in journalism.”
2 Virginia 2010: They didn't want the party to end
James Madison University students know how to party. They also now know what tear gas feels like, and what their Miranda rights are. In June of 2010, students at the Harrisonburg, Virginia school were enjoying their annual Springfest; a block party that involves a lot of booze.
Predictably, the party got a little too rowdy and when the police were called to break it up, irate party-goers refused to leave and instead retaliated by throwing beer bottles and starting fights.
The petulant partiers numbered in the thousands, so more officers - now sporting full riot gear - swiftly responded with grenades of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean bags. When the dust eventually settled there were more than 30 arrests, a stabbing, extensive property damage and several injuries.
1 New York 1922: They didn't like straw hats
We all know it’s a fashion faux-pas to wear white after Labour day, but did you also know you shouldn't wear a straw hat after September 15th? Residents of New York in 1922 took this rule very seriously - and if you didn't heed the decree, you would likely have had the offending headpiece snatched from your head as a reminder.
Decorum dictated that usually it was only a friend that could relieve you of a straw hat, but everything changed on September 14th, the day before this unofficial fashion law was to commence.
Two opposing sides collided as thousands of people who were wearing straw hats clashed with those who didn’t think they should. ‘Straw Hat Riots Embroil East Side’ trumpeted the New York Times, as reports of straw hats being violently snatched from people’s heads poured in.
Although it was dictated that, “the inalienable right of man to wear a straw hat in a snowstorm, if he desires, is to be upheld in this city by both police and the magistrates,” thousands more hats are stolen. Seven ‘wreckers’ were eventually convicted and fined five dollars each.