The Associated Press Stylebook is encouraging journalists to set aside the word “riot” when describing the protests that have often descended into violent upheavals, arguing the word “stigmatizes” protesters and the Black Lives Matter cause.
The AP Stylebook, an instruction manual for journalists, issued the guidance Tuesday after months of protesting, rioting, and looting across the country.
“A riot is a wild or violent disturbance of the peace involving a group of people,” AP explained. “The term riot suggests uncontrolled chaos and pandemonium.”
“Focusing on rioting and property destruction rather than underlying grievance has been used in the past to stigmatize broad swaths of people protesting against lynching, police brutality or for racial justice, going back to the urban uprisings of the 1960s,” the explanation continued.
Instead, AP reasoned, media members should use milder terms with less violent connotations when referencing the often violent exhibitions unfolding in major American cities.
“Unrest is a vaguer, milder and less emotional term for a condition of angry discontent and protest verging on revolt,” AP suggested.
The media company went on to explain the words “protest” and demonstration” refer to “specific actions such as marches, sit-ins, rallies or other actions meant to register dissent,” which can be “legal or illegal, organized or spontaneous, peaceful or violent, and involve any number of people.”
“‘Revolt’ and ‘uprising’ both suggest a broader political dimension or civil upheavals, a sustained period of protests or unrest against powerful groups or governing systems,” it added.
The AP Stylebook has also encouraged journalists to “limit use” of the word “looting,” which it suggested is a racially charged word. The impetus for that shift was a censored tweet from President Donald Trump, who, in the wake of the uprisings following the police-involved death of George Floyd in May, wrote, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“Some have long viewed the word [looting] as carrying some racial overtones, particularly in the wake of natural disasters,” explained AP. “[I]nstead, use a few more words and describe the actions: ‘Some protesters broke into the store and stole whatever was on the shelves,’ for example.”