In August of 1965, a reported act of police brutality touched off riots that consumed the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts for five days. When it was over, more than 34 people were dead, at least 1,000 were wounded and $200 million in property was destroyed by looting and fire.
Twenty-seven years later, the acquittal of four officers in the beating of Rodney King sparked more rioting in Los Angeles that lasted three days and resulted in the death of 54 people and destruction of $1 billion in property.
This is what can happen when social order breaks down. The “riot beast,” as some people call it, grows quickly and can suck in innocent bystanders as easily as it can the fringe criminal element just looking for an opportunity to strike.
Do you know what to do if a riot begins in your area? It’s not always possible to avoid a riot, as most of those injured or killed are innocents caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself from getting caught up in the worst of it:
- Be prepared. If you know that tensions are brewing to such an extent that a riot is possible, but you can’t avoid the area, try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Wear clothes that make you look like part of the crowd, but take care not to wear colors that could signal allegiance to one group or gang.
- Plan possible escape routes for the duration of your journey outside.
- Keep cash on hand to arrange for transportation or pay off looters.
- Remain calm. Riots bring intense emotions to the surface, and you have to keep your emotions in check. Think rationally at all times.
- Get inside and stay inside. Stay away from windows and doors, try to get into the middle of the structure to put as many walls as possible between yourself and any bullets fired from outside, and lock all entrances into the building. Keep in mind you need to have at least two escape routes. If rioters gain entry to your building, leave in a hurry and try to find law enforcement authorities.
- Stay on the sidelines.
- If you’re caught up in a riot, don’t take sides. Try to be inconspicuous and move slowly, but purposefully, to the outside of the mob.
- Move away from the riot. The longer you spend in it the greater the chance you will be injured or killed. But move out slowly. Think of it as escaping the undertow, and move toward the outside so you can find an alley, side street or doorway to get into.
- Avoid major roadways, as this is where the crowd is liable to be the greatest.
- Avoid public transportation. The stations may be particularly dangerous because of the chance of large crowds and difficult egress.
- Don’t stop your car. Drive away from the riot and don’t stop until you are in a safe place with no other people, except maybe law enforcement, nearby. If people try to block your course, honk your horn and continue driving carefully through them.
- If you’re in the midst of a riot and police begin using chemicals, such as teargas, try to stay out of the line of fire. Try to stay away from the front lines, which will bear the brunt of a police action. If the air gets thick with chemicals, get low for fresh air.
- Do your best to stay on your feet. If you fall, you are likely to be trampled. If you do fall, curl into a ball and protect your face and vital organs.
Should you believe that riots or looters may soon affect your neighborhood, you may deem it prudent to leave your home until the situation stabilizes. Most people think that simply locking their doors and leaving is sufficient. But this won’t keep out rioters who are not bound by the rule of law and certainly don’t respect the locks on your doors and windows. So you need to prepare your home to make it as looter-proof as possible before you leave. To do it properly, you will have to have prepared in advance by purchasing and storing the needed materials.
You’ve probably seen video or photographs of homes along the coast being prepared for the onslaught of a hurricane. Keep this visual in mind as you begin to make your home looter-proof.
Plywood over the windows and doors will confound most looters because the riots that fuel the looting are generally somewhat spontaneous. It’s difficult to remove plywood covers without the proper tools, and the odds are against looters carrying pry bars, hammers and screwdrivers when a riot breaks out. Don’t forget to cover skylights and other soft points as well.
If you have a large screened or glassed-in porch, the best bet is to secure the small door that allows access to the home. Sacrifice the glass or screen on the porch.
Garage doors can be problematic to cover. If you have a metal garage door, you probably should just trust it to keep out looters. A wooden door can be breached with a swift kick to one of the panels. Cover each of the panels with plywood as if they were glass.
The plywood you use should be at least 3/8 inch thick. Any less and you may as well have no protection at all. Use screws to secure the wood. The screws should be 1½ to 2 inches in length.
If your home is boarded up and other homes in the neighborhood are not, yours will likely be spared in lieu of the easier pickings.
If your house is hooked to natural gas or a propane tank, turn off the gas at the gas meter and water at the main valve. Turn off the electricity at the breaker or fuse box.