19 November 2004

The Riot Act of 1715

Dave, over at The Policeman's Blog, longs to actually be able to read people the Riot Act:
Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons being assembled immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George for preventing tumultuous and riotous assemblies. God save the King.
Yep, for those of ya'll (like me) who have used the expression for years, there really was / is a "Riot Act." It doesn't just mean your Mom yelling at you and your kid brother for spilling ink on the new couch.

It was put into law under King George in 1715 to quell riots. And for those of us in the U.S. - no this was not the King George we read about in our version of history ("of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States"); that's George III.

Dave laments the fact that the Riot Act is no longer the law of the land in Britain and he wouldn't be able to read it anyway because isn't a magistrate. Well, I've got the perfect solution. It just involves a little bit of a relocation.

If not a republican, a move to Canada would provide for continuing loyalty to the Crown:
67. A person who is

(a) a justice, mayor or sheriff, or the lawful deputy of a mayor or sheriff,
. . .
who receives notice that, at any place within the jurisdiction of the person, twelve or more persons are unlawfully and riotously assembled together shall go to that place and, after approaching as near as is safe, if the person is satisfied that a riot is in progress, shall command silence and thereupon make or cause to be made in a loud voice a proclamation in the following words or to the like effect:

Her Majesty the Queen charges and commands all persons being assembled immediately to disperse and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business on the pain of being guilty of an offence for which, on conviction, they may be sentenced to imprisonment for life. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.
Of course, there is the option of moving to Rhode Island here in the good old US of A:
§ 11-38-1 Proclamation commanding dispersal. – (a) If any persons numbering twelve (12) or more, being armed with clubs or other weapons, or if any number of persons consisting of thirty (30) or more shall be unlawfully, routously, riotously, or tumultuously assembled, any justice of the supreme or superior court or of a district court, justice of the peace, sheriff, mayor, deputy sheriff, town sergeant, or constable shall, among the rioters or as near to them as he or she can safely come, command silence while proclamation he or she is making and shall openly make proclamation in substance as follows:

"By virtue of the laws of this state in relation to routs, riots, and tumultuous assemblies, I charge and command all persons here assembled immediately to disperse and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, upon the penalties inflicted by law: God save the state."
Unfortunately, in Virginia we've lost our sense of history:
§ 18.2-407. Remaining at place of riot or unlawful assembly after warning to disperse..

Every person, except the owner or lessee of the premises, his family and nonrioting guests, and public officers and persons assisting them, who remains at the place of any riot or unlawful assembly after having been lawfully warned to disperse, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
In other words, here in Virginia all that has to happen is an officer walk up and say, "You kids git!" Kinda kills the historical romanticism.

[addendum] I checked my copy of the 1874 statutes as well and the Riot Act wasn't part of Virginia law then either.

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