In the letter, MLK jr. described that civil disobedience is permissible when it is nonviolent, when those involved accepts punishment, and there is communication. It was mentioned in class that not all people agree that civil disobedience does not involve violence. So, some people feel violence is justified in certain cases. When is it permissible to use violence, then, with civil disobedience? Why do you think it might be seen as acceptable in some cases, but not in others, or why do you think some might even think it is justified? If violence is needed, where do we draw the line?
The group decided that violence should never be permissible, and that using any violence in civil disobedience would completely contradict the idea and purpose of the peaceful protesting. If the citizens must use violence, then it is no longer civil at all. We did agree, however, that if the government initiates violence and perhaps tries to apprehend the protesters aggressively, then it is justifiable in the sense that you are protecting yourself, as self-defense.
I presented a situation, in relation to the text, “when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…” and asked if one would justify violence used in this case, when there has been great amounts of racist violence against you and your family and friends.
The group members answered that, again, unless it is for self-defense, one still should not turn to violence, even if you or your family have been wronged many times. They agreed that all issues should be able to be solved without citizens turning to violence. If those in power refuse to communicate, refuse to listen or negotiate, then it may call for more than just civil disobedience. Perhaps it may need a bigger movement, like a civil war, because, then, there needs to be a change of those in power. There is no longer a respect in the laws from the citizens, no respect for the citizens, and there is no respect for those who are creating laws.
I presented another situation where I have seen some instances—once last year—where violence does get out of hand–from both sides–but because the government had so much power and control over the country, without the violence that was involved, there may not have been enough pressure for change and it wouldn’t have received enough publicity to bring about the needed pressure, or tension–as mentioned in the letter, “on the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.” Without the pressure brought upon by aggression, I feel like there wouldn’t have been enough communication, and that the person in power wouldn’t have listened to what the people had to say. Citizens were trying to reach out for help from other countries–for publicity–to get messages across, because the government just wasn’t even bothering to negotiate and shut everyone down, thus leading to the escalation in situation and bringing forth more violence.
Again, with this presented situation, my group members discussed that it calls for more than just simply a peaceful protest. A movement for change would call for more than just reform in laws, it would need a change in power. Clearly, there is more than just a few immoral laws here that is the issue.
2. Are there any cases of laws at this moment that you feel are unjust that you feel may lead to violent protests? If so, do you believe it might be possible to resolve the issue, and even resolve all unjust laws or make changes to all unjust laws without ever any use of violence? What if the government will not negotiate with us and refuses to communicate?
We discussed how the recent Muslim ban that was passed could definitely lead towards aggressive/violent protests, as it is a very unjust law. A group member said, however, that many people were raised not to believe in violence, but with the outrage and controversy around the issue, many may possibly be influenced to act aggressively.
Some of the group members also stated that they are unable to answer these questions as clearly or with as much insight, as they are not in support of using violence whatsoever. Thus, they concluded that no, there is nothing going on that should ever need the use of violence, no matter of the degree of how unjust it is and how much it goes against a person’s morals. We talked about how there were many famous cases of civil disobedience, and the group compared them and talked about about how, although some did accomplish what they did with violence, it does not mean it was always needed.
Towards the end of the discussion, one of the group members did disagree a bit. The member stated that sometimes you can protest all you want, but you still will not be able to change somethings… So, some situations might need violence and more pressure than just nonviolent actions. As described in MLK’s letter, to “create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue,” and “to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored,” aggression might be required. This group member believed if there were civil movements that wasn’t as aggressive or didn’t put as much pressure on the country as they did, there would still be forms of slavery today. In response, we said that we did talk about rather extreme cases, and if the situation ever did come to such extreme cases, it ultimately means there needs to be more than just peaceful protesting. It means there needs to be a complete change in government and power. Otherwise, acts of civil disobedience should never need violence, unless for self-defense.