I find my views about rioting to be possibly artificially drawn away from magnetic north by several personal experiences with them, as well as having been an adult during the giant city burning episodes around the time of the MLK killing.
From personal observation and experience I feel a high level of certainty that every riot since the 1960s was and is heavily infiltrated by police or other government provocateurs, pushing, inflaming and instigating to direct events toward violence. I’m not suggesting the riots wouldn’t have happened without them. The riots would almost certainly have happened anyway. I honestly don’t have a clue why they’re doing it.
But my first experience with it was Halloween, 1960, in Borger, Texas. During the days before Halloween the kids in high school were all gearing up for it, but I was a newbie in town, had no reason to anticipate what they saw as the normal way to celebrate Halloween. Wild and wooly oil-field worker traditions combined with a boys-will-be-boys tolerance on the part of adults left the options wide open.
The newspaper the next day described it as a quieter than usual Halloween with the main damage being someone starting a bulldozer at a construction site and driving it through a house, nobody hurt.
A few hundred teenagers drunk on main street armed with eggs, veggies, rocks, jars of gasoline, cornering police paddy wagon with barrage after barrage, following them back to the station house and setting fire to the lawn was just a beginning. I never saw anything like it, even during the riots at the University of Texas I was a part of a decade later.
My point is, rioting is fun, it’s joyful, it’s seductive if the anonymity of a mob can be maintained and when there are no consequences. It doesn’t take much to get people rioting under those circumstances.
On the other hand, the day after Kent State and afterward throughout the remainder of the Vietnam War the temptation to riot was always there so long as it was someone else stepping off the curb into the street. The police and a lot of the rest of the country made it plain by word and attitude they felt tolerance for what happened at Kent State and wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
I recall what a letdown it was when I realized I wasn’t the gutsy hotshot I had people thinking I was, that I was just a loudmouth coward when it came to offering myself up for what I claimed I believed in by making myself a target for all those cops to practice on.
I don’t think things are much different now. My near-certainty about riots in the US is that the government response will determine whether there are riots, or won’t be. I don’t give advice, but if I did I’d suggest anyone involved in a peaceful demonstration immediately remove himself/herself from the area as rapidly as possible at the first sign of violence.
I’d suggest carefully exploring the route and area of the demonstration on maps and on the ground beforehand. Pre-arranged escape routes memorized to allow getting the hell out of dodge. Cell phones set with standby text messages to friends and cohorts to get the message out immediately that things are going sour. But I won’t suggest it.
But I don’t have a lot of reason to think having a riot going on and being in the center of it is a place I’d want to spend a lot of time.