10 Famous Riots That Changed History

1Police militarization and the death of an unarmed teen sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri

The jury's still out on how the events of August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri will go down in history. While the rioting has died down, protests continue as of this writing.

What we do know — on August 9, 2014, an unarmed 18-year-old black male, Michael Brown, was shot six times by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Wilson drove up to Brown and a friend and ordered the pair from the street onto a sidewalk. Words were exchanged, and Wilson shot at Brown from inside the patrol car. When the two men began to flee, Wilson exited the car and continued to shoot, fatally wounding Brown.

Accounts vary wildly from witnesses. Was Brown surrendering to the officer or was he charging Wilson? As the story continued to develop, both peaceful protests and civil disorder broke out the day following the shooting and lasted for several days.

The Ferguson riots shed light on America's broad racial divide, which—despite the strides made by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—still exists.

The uprising also brought attention to the aggressive tactics and over-militarization of civilian police in America. As a result of the events in Ferguson, President Obama has ordered a review of the military equipment supplied to police.

2The LA riots were the largest and most well-chronicled in American history

The LA riots erupted after the acquittal of four LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King on April 29, 1992. 53 died, and 3,000 were injured during the uprising and the city lost over $1 billion in property damage due to looting and arson.

In the six days that followed, the riots shed light on police abuse, poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and a sense of disenfranchisement among African-Americans in the community.

Rioting subsided after soldiers from the California Army National Guard, the 7th Infantry Division and Marines from the 1st Marine Division were called in to quell the violence. Local police were simply outnumbered.

Afterward, the LAPD and city of Los Angeles made significant changes—more minorities were encouraged to join the police force and police chief Daryl Gates resigned. The officers were retried by the U.S. Department of Justice. Of the four, two were found guilty and sentenced to 32 months in prison.

The LA riots were given context by the continuous 24-hour news cycle that didn't exist during previous periods of civil unrest. They were also a window into the complexities of race in the diverse, multiracial and multiethnic city.

3The student revolt and labor strikes that ground France to a halt in May 1968

During the 1960s, France entered into a period of stability—the economy improved, President Charles de Gaulle was a popular ruler, and the French Empire was abolished.

However, there was discontent simmering among students who were critical of the country's outdated university system and unable to find jobs once they graduated.

The unrest in Paris in May 1968 began with a series of student occupation protests against capitalism, consumerism and traditional institutions, values and order. The protests then spread from students to factory workers. 11 million people went on strike for two weeks (approximately 22% of the population of France at the time).

The protests were met with forceful confrontation by university administrators and police, and it was not long before de Gaulle put his foot down as well.

When he hinted at using the military to restore order and announced new elections, the most radical students called for revolution, but they soon lost the support of mainstream communist and trade union leaders who feared they would be swept away in a revolution led by anarchists and Trotskyites. Loyal Gaullists and middle-class citizens rallied around the president and the labor strikes were eventually abandoned. As the uprising lost steam, student protests were also banned, and by June 12, 1968, the last remaining protesters were evicted from the Sorbonne.

After the protests, Gaullists won the greatest victory in French parliamentary history. They made a series of concessions to the protesting groups including higher wages, and improved conditions for workers. They also passed a reform bill intended to modernize higher education.

4The little known riot of 1835 that shaped the American political landscape

In August 1835, an angry mob of white laborers vandalized a restaurant operated by Beverly Snow, a free black man.

The unrest began when Arthur Bowen, a slave belonging to Mrs. Anna Maria Thornton, threatened to murder her. (Thornton was the well-known and highly-respected widow of William Thornton, the architect of the United States Capitol.) Bowen came home drunk and entered her bedroom with an ax while she slept. His mother, who was also sleeping in the room, quickly escorted him out. However, Mrs. Thornton awoke terrified and ran to neighbors. When they returned, they heard Arthur say "I'll have my freedom, you hear me? I have as much right to freedom as you do."

Brown then fled into the night but was soon found and arrested. While he languished in jail, a crowd formed demanding his release. They destroyed the nearest black-owned business they could find—Beverly Snow's restaurant. They also trashed a black boardinghouse and several schoolhouses.

Snow and his restaurant were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The businessman fled to Toronto and opened another restaurant that proved to be as popular as his Washington eatery.

Pro and anti-slavery forces crystallized during that particular period and also emerged in Congress in the years following the riot. The electoral map of the US still corresponds roughly to the divisions between the red and blue states to this day.

5The Democratic National Convention riots that forever changed the public's perception of government

In the summer of 1968, Chicago, Illinois prepared to welcome Democrats from around the country who were gathering there to nominate their next presidential candidate. Protesters nationwide including radicals, hippies, yippies, and moderates, who normally represented a myriad of issues and a wide range of philosophies, descended upon the city with one common cause – ending the long war in Vietnam and challenging Democratic Party leaders and their delegates to break with the past and create change.

The riots that followed and the brutality upon protestors by the establishment forever marred the public's faith in politicians, in the political system, in the country, and in its institutions.

In the months before the convention, city mayor Richard Daley repeatedly announced that "law and order will be maintained." Daley had 12,000 police officers, 5,000 regular army troops, and 6,000 National Guardsmen patrolling Chicago's streets during the convention, all of which overreacted to essentially peaceful demonstrations, causing violent confrontations.

It has been said that these protests decided the fate of the upcoming election. Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Independent Governor George Wallace of Alabama that November.

6The Arab protests that blossomed over social media

"Arab Spring" is a term that was coined by the Western media in early 2011 to mark a series of protests, uprisings and unarmed rebellions that spread across several Arab countries. It is believed that word of the protests spread, and opposition grew through the use of social media sites including Facebook and Twitter.

While the relative success and outcome of the protests remain a hotly contested debate, they seem to have sprung from a deep-seated resentment at aging Arab dictatorships (some glossed over with rigged elections) and anger at the brutality of the security apparatus, unemployment, rising prices, and corruption.

Unlike the fall of Communist Europe in 1989, there were no uniform political or economic models to replace the existing systems. Jordan and Morocco wanted reform under their current rulers while people in Egypt and Tunisia wanted to overthrow their presidents, but other than wanting free elections, they had no idea what to do next.

The uprisings were a catalyst for long-term change in the region that continues to this day.

7The Watts riots of 1965 were a pivotal point in the African-American Civil Rights Movement

The 1965 Watts rebellion represented a shift in the form of non-violent protest that had characterized the civil rights generation. They were the first in a series of violent acts of protest by the black community that would become commonplace during the 1960s.

Tensions flared in August of that year when 21-year-old Marquette Frye was pulled over by a highway patrolman, Lee W. Minikus, for drunk driving. While Marquette was talking to police his brother, a passenger in the car, ran home to get their mother, Rena Price.

Rena returned to the spot where Marquette was stopped and scolded her son for being reckless, however, the situation got out of hand quickly. Someone shoved Rena and Marquette was struck. Rena then jumped an officer, while another officer pulled out a shotgun.

The family was put under arrest. A crowd of residents grew and started to throw objects at the arresting officers.

After the family had been taken into custody, crowds continued to swell, and the police were unable to stop the unrest. Over the next six days, the rebellion intensified with 31,000-35,000 adults participating. The National Guard put in a curfew zone encompassing over forty-five miles of South Central Los Angeles in an attempt to restore public order.

34 people died during the riots, and thousands more were injured. An official investigation of the crisis, prompted by then-Governor Pat Brown, found that the riot was a result of the Watts community's longstanding grievances and growing discontentment with high unemployment rates, substandard housing, and inadequate schools.

8The riots that paved the way for LGBT rights

The Stonewall riots are considered to be the catalyst for LGBT civil rights in the United States.

At the time of the riots, there were few places where people could be openly gay. Homosexuality was prohibited in public by law, and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down.

On June 28, 1969, a group of customers at a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn stood up to the police during a raid. The 200 patrons refused to cooperate, and as word spread throughout New York, they were soon joined by others in confronting the police, who were quickly outnumbered. Protesters threw bottles at police officers who could do nothing but barricade themselves inside the Stonewall for their own safety.

The streets were cleared by 4 am that morning, but over the next few nights, protesters numbered in the thousands and the LGBT movement was born. By 1970, the first gay pride parades in U.S. history took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and near the Stonewall Inn in New York.

9The "Battle In Seattle" that was the precursor to the Occupy movement

In November 1999, Seattle was set to host the WTO Ministerial Conference. World governments were to descend upon the city to meet and discuss various trading rules.

Negotiations were quickly overshadowed by street protests that were part of the anti-globalization movement. Protestors in the tens of thousands prevented delegates from attending the global trade talks by forming a human chain around the Seattle convention center and shutting down the city's center. Police in riot gear responded to the mostly peaceful protests by shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd.

The result? 600 were arrested, and the police chief was eventually forced to resign. The opening ceremonies at the convention were also canceled because delegates couldn't reach the convention center.

While the anti-globalization movement has died down in recent years, the "Battle for Seattle" did jump-start a series of international antiglobalization protests and helped progressive movements (i.e., the Occupy movement) realize the power of the web for mobilization and coalition building.

10The riots that were a turning point for Latino culture in America

During WWII, riots broke out between servicemen stationed in Los Angeles, and Latino youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored.

The young men, who called themselves pachucos, clashed with servicemen who felt it unpatriotic that they were dressed so extravagantly during wartime.

In June 1943, tensions boiled over as approximately 200 sailors rolled into East LA to beat up and strip the clothing from any young Latino male they could find. Police, for the most part, approved of the action, and outside of giving the sailors a slap on the wrist, did nothing to stop it.

For the next several nights, the number of sailors, soldiers, and civilians alike took to the barrio to beat up Latino males. The rioting servicemen were not arrested, however, but more than 500 Latinos were, on charges ranging from "rioting" to "vagrancy."

On June 7, Navy and Army commanders stepped in to stop the rioting—  they declared the City of Los Angeles off-limits to military personnel. (Although the Navy took the position that the sailors were "acting in self-defense against the rowdy element.")