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Top 10 Riots of the Past 100 Years

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Riots are a form of civil disorder that brings together groups of people, usually in a chaotic manner. For this list, we’ve chosen our entries based on their historical impact and how high-profile they were, and not solely on the number of resulting deaths or cost of damages. With August 11th marking the anniversary of the 1965 LA race riots, counts down our picks for the top 10 riots.

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This violent form of civil disorder brings together groups of people in chaos. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 riots.

For this list, we’ve chosen our entries based on their historical impact and how high-profile they were, and not solely on the number of resulting deaths or cost of damages.

#10 – Watts Riots, Los Angeles, U.S.A. (1965)

Known for racial tensions, L.A.’s Watts neighborhood hosted an extremely brutal six-day riot in 1965 following a physical altercation between white highway patrol officer Lee Minikus and black American Marquette Frye. Residents appeared in droves to throw objects at the cops who’d allegedly roughed up Frye during his arrest on suspicion of drinking and driving. Destruction, looting and torching ensued, resulting in over 30 deaths, thousands of injuries and $40 million in damages.

#9 – Detroit Riot, Detroit, U.S.A. (1967)

This fatal Detroit riot was triggered when police raided an illegal 12th Street drinking club and discovered over 80 celebrating patrons. After the all-black party was arrested, an angry mob began pitching items at cops, setting fires and pillaging stores. Police became so overwhelmed during the next few days that the National Guard was called in. This resulted in 7000 arrests, 100-plus injuries and over 40 deaths.

#8 – Gujarat Violence, Gujarat, India (2002)

While returning from a religious pilgrimage, over 50 Hindu pilgrims died when a group of Muslims ignited fires in the Godhra Train Burning. Large Hindu mobs responded by attacking Muslim areas, which sparked communal riots in the Indian state of Gujarat. In the end, more than a thousand Hindus and Muslims died, hundreds more disappeared or lost their homes and many sacred buildings were demolished.

#7 – Los Angeles Riots, Los Angeles, U.S.A. (1992)

Also called the South Central riots, this race riot was one of America’s biggest and most deadly civil disturbances. The L.A. population was so angry that the primarily white jury had acquitted the LAPD cops caught brutally beating Rodney King that they participated in arson, assault, and raiding for six days. Over 50 people died, thousands were arrested and over a billion dollars in damage occurred.

#6 – Kenyan Crisis, Kenya (2007-2008)

Kenya’s political instability came to a head in 2007 when Mwai Kibaki won another presidential term. This aroused the ire of his opponent’s supporters, who, believing the election was fixed, quickly targeted people from Kibaki’s ethnic group. Violent rioting later spread across the country, and included the massacre of 30 civilians in a church. In total, over 800 people died and many more lost their homes.

#5 – Bombay Riots, Mumbai, India (1992-1993)

Though the Indian Supreme Court pledged to protect the Babri Mosque, Hindu leaders destroyed the structure in 1992. Muslims reciprocated by killing and harming Hindus, who fought back with Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena leading the way. These communal riots resulted in more than 900 deaths, two-thirds of which were Muslims. The carnage continued when an organized criminal group orchestrated multiple bombings of the city a few months later.

#4 – El Bogotazo Riots, Bogota, Colombia (1948)

After liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitain was assassinated during Mariano Ospina Perez’s conservative presidency, an angry mob rushed to end the suspected murderer’s life. The power struggle between conservatives and liberals continued when enraged Colombians threw Molotov bombs, trashed buildings and stole goods for the next ten hours. Though 3000 had died, civil conflict continued for several more years and the death toll rose and rose.

#3 – First Intifada, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel (1987-1993)

Since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is decades old, it’s not easy to identify the First Intifada’s exact cause. But, most point to the mowing down of several Palestinians by an Israeli army truck. This, combined with Palestinian outrage over Israeli occupation of various territories, spurred an uprising that included strikes, boycotts and Molotov cocktails. Israelis soldiers were forced to fight back, resulting in over 2000 Palestinian and 100 Israeli deaths.

#2 – Romanian Revolution Riots, Romania (1989)

In the late 1980s, Central and Eastern Europeans expressed their dissatisfaction with their living conditions by rioting and protesting. But it was only the Eastern Bloc’s Romanian Revolution that proved successful in removing its Communist regime. Beginning after the government attempted removing one of its vocal critics, the highly violent disorder got so bad, military forces were required. Over a thousand deaths ensued.

#1 – Direct Action Day, Calcutta, India (1946)

One of the worst Muslim-Hindu riots occurred following the 1946 rejection of the Muslim request for a Pakistan separate from a Hindu-majority India. The Great Calcutta Killing consisted of armed Muslims attacking Hindus and stoning offices across the city. Hindus retaliated by targeting Muslim areas. The disastrous results included over 4000 dead, hundreds of thousands without homes and increased violence in other regions. However, the rioting also ultimately paved the way for the Partition of India.

Though riots are a form of expression, they can also lead to an unnecessary loss of life. It’s important to learn about our past so we don’t repeat it. Be sure to subscribe to for more historical top 10s.

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