Understanding Civil Unrest Terminology

According to a study by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), a large financial services organization based in Germany, civil unrest is expected to increase worldwide in the months and years ahead.

The report states that strikes, riots, and violent protests will increase and pose risks to companies “because, in addition to material damage to buildings or assets, business operations can be disrupted, resulting in loss of income.”

The United Nations has come to the same conclusion. Further, “All of this is planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in March 2022.  The U.N. adds that even countries that rarely experience civil unrest, such as Finland and Denmark, will experience such events.

So, what exactly is civil unrest? What terms and definitions are associated with civil unrest that we should know? Because TAL Global believes this topic is so important for all of us to understand, especially as we experience more civil unrest in this country and around the world, we have prepared the following civil unrest glossary.

Civil Unrest

Civil unrest is often defined as organized violence. Sometimes, it involves one or more groups of people who may be opposed to each other. In most cases, they refuse to obey authority. As the civil unrest continues, damages to private and public property result. Those involved in civil unrest may experience injury or death.


A protest or demonstration is not civil unrest. Protests are usually peaceful, are constitutionally protected in the United States, and are a feature of a democracy. Protestors can speak, march, and gather on public sidewalks, parks, and streets. They can also distribute flyers, chant, sing, and picket, as well as take photos and videos. In most cases in the United States, those planning a protest must get a permit. In addition, organizers may need to pay a fee if, for instance, police are needed for traffic control.

Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is a form of protest. It is when one or more individuals decide not to obey specific laws. Examples include sit-ins and “die-ins,” where protestors sit or lie down and refuse to leave a building in an effort to draw attention to their cause. While civil disobedience is typically nonviolent and peaceful, all-too-often it crosses the line into civil unrest, with violence, injuries, and property damage occurring.


A riot typically involves several people who have gathered with the intention to be violent, cause damage, and do harm to others. More officially, the Britannica Dictionary defines the word “riot” as a situation in which a large group of people behave violently and uncontrollably to the point that it disrupts public peace.

Types of Civil Unrest

Sociologists report there are four types of civil unrest:


A good example of economic civil unrest was the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. They were protesting a range of grievances, from corporate greed to businesses’ role in climate change. While most of their demonstrations remained peaceful, many crossed the line into civil unrest, resulting in injuries, violence, and arrests.


More common in Europe and other parts of the world than in the U.S., sports civil unrest typically occurs when spectators become rowdy after a game, which can escalate to arson, property damage, and injuries.


The white nationalists’ protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, was in response to the city council’s decision in February of that year to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a local park. It turned into civil unrest when violence erupted, one death occurred, and many people were injured.

Reactions to police actions.

Some of the most violent civil unrest in this country in recent years has been in response to people being killed by police. Sometimes the civil unrest is confined to the city where the police action occurred, but very often, it spreads to other cities.

Something we should note about these terms is that they are all closely related. This is because a peaceful protest or demonstration can quickly turn into civil unrest. Corporate and college campuses, schools, and all public facilities must be aware of this and, most importantly, take steps to protect their people and critical infrastructure no matter what happens.


As always, we value your feedback, which helps us shape our perspective on recent events, security, and the services we offer.

Stay safe,

Johnathan Tal
Chief Executive Officer
TAL Global
O: 1-408-993-1300

© TAL Global, 2019