The Bell Riots were a pivotal series of events on Earth in 2024. Started in San Francisco's Sanctuary District A, they were named after protest leader Gabriel Bell.
In the year 2020, the American government – reacting to serious problems of homelessness and unemployment – created special Sanctuary Districts (essentially walled-off sections of the city grid) in most major cities. Unfortunately – while established with the benevolent intent of providing free housing and food, as well as prospects for future employment – the Sanctuaries, with little police protection and continued cutbacks, quickly degenerated into inhumane internment camps for the poor. Even though people with criminal records were not allowed inside Sanctuaries, it didn't take long for the homeless and unemployed to be joined by the mentally ill and other, more violent, social outcasts. These groups were later referred to by their slang terms – Gimmies, Dims, and Ghosts.
By late 2024, the twenty square blocks that made up Sanctuary District A had become overcrowded slums. With the records of people inside the Sanctuaries not uploaded to the planetary computer network (and therefore not accessible using an Interface), the true conditions inside were unknown to the general public. American society believed that, despite the political upheaval affecting Europe at the time, the United States was stable and had found a way to successfully deal with the social problems that had been the genesis of the Sanctuaries. An "out of sight, out of mind" mentality had set in.