Violent protest or peaceful protest? This question has been challenged for centuries, and still, people argue and disagree over the most effective way to protest. The recent black lives matter protests around the world following the death of George Floyd highlighted the tension between two sides of protestors. As one side destroyed all objects in their path, the other stood still, even trying to stop the other side from looting communities. People who were meant to be coming together to fight for change ended up fighting with each other. So, which strategy is more effective?

Violent protests consistently fail to achieve long-term change. Although they may create minor changes due to a local authority’s need to protect the safety of the community, once the initial ‘hype’ of a movement diminishes, there is no difference. What has the looting of cities achieved in America? Absolutely nothing other than destroying small businesses which are vital to many towns, causing injury and death to many people including African Americans and in some places discrediting the movement as a way to make money.

Violence is fundamentally divisive. Violence immediately places two sides against each other. It creates a further division that is counter-productive to the goal of the movement. If we seek a community, state or nation which strives for equality between all people, that must involve people coming together not apart.

“If you sow the seeds of violence in your struggle, unborn generations will reap the whirlwind of social disintegration.” Not only do violent protests achieve minimal change, but they can also even cause further consequences in the future. In South Africa, the African National Congress who fought to destroy apartheid took a path of violence and armed struggle. However, the ANC failed to grasp or understand the full consequences of justifying the use of violence to achieve a noble end. The ANC’s initial policy of violence could never be broken as it provided generations that followed the justification to use whatever means necessary to achieve their “just ends”. The movement was established on the hatred central to the use of violence. That is still present within South Africa today.

My perspective on the impact of violent protest is summarised by short-term and long-term implications. Initially, violence can cause communities to create radical laws to protect communities and prosecute offenders, however; it creates no lasting change on the causes of the inequality. In the future, these violent protests can create a dangerous precedent where others believe violence is an appropriate option, and these movements can be built on violence which further divides people, contrary to the movement.

Non-violent protests can be immensely powerful and create not only short-term but also lasting change that attacks the causes of the struggle. The oppression of African Americans delves much deeper than police brutality, although that is a genuine concern. These communities have been battling for decades due to poor education, minimal employment opportunities and a lack of adequate services. Non-violent protest conveys emotions much greater than rage and anger. It conveys pain, oppression and a sense of hopelessness. Below is one of my favourite protest images I’ve seen over the past few weeks. Imagine if the millions of people who have protested over the past few weeks did this. Everyone laid on the ground. The power of those images could be influential to the success of the movement.

Non-violent protest can also leverage immense economic and political pressure because a government relies on its citizens for labor and expertise. Targeted and consistent noncooperation can be devastating and force governments to create legislative change. This is important because violence by protestors can undermine public support and give politicians excuse for neglect.

We must learn from the past. We cannot forget the countless instances of violence around the world and what the result has been. The black lives matter movement must make a clear decision moving forward. Do they promote a message of violence and resistance, or will they consistently stand courageously for change? Whatever answer they choose will transform our world for decades to come. A precedent of violence which fuels rage and division or a group of hopeless people joining together to find hope, a hope formed in equality that transcends the colour of someone’s skin.

The distinction between violent and non-violent action is that the former is exclusively bent upon the destruction of the old, and the latter is chiefly concerned with the establishment of something new.

I have wanted to write this article for many weeks, but I did not feel as if I knew enough. Over the past 3 weeks, I have been reading, listening, and watching the protests take place in America and around the world. I have grappled with differing perspectives and now have reached a position am comfortable with. However, my learning does not and will not ever stop in this area. I will continue to listen, and my thoughts may well change over time. The question of violence or peace is paramount to the future of this movement, the decision will change the future. What do you think? Violent protest or peaceful protest?

44 thoughts on “Violent or Peaceful Protest?

  1. Good article….I disagree but not completely…..look st these protests today….the news barely noticed until force was used…..that is violence. Without the media these days there can be NO winning….a sad turn.

    I wrote about this in my op-ed blog. https://gulfsouthfreepress.wordpress.com/2020/06/04/why-not-try-non-violence/

    Plus I wrote about joining in protests…..https://gulfsouthfreepress.wordpress.com/2020/06/15/would-you-or-not/

    I have followed and will be visiting….be well be safe chuq

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment! I agree the violence brings the media with it, but I don’t know if that justifies the use of violence. If entire cities are held up because of non-violent resistance, I am sure the media will be forced to report aswell because nothing else is happening. It depends what the movement seeks to achieve, what do you see as an end goal?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The media is the builder of hegemony…..remember for the media…”if it bleeds it leads”……bring about change within police departments, if you are talking about the present day….and I think they are close to getting reform but this society does not want change just minor reform to look like they did something. chuq

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’m not quite sure what you are specifically talking about here, but the media is only step 1 in a multiple step process in solving this issue. I believe step 1 has already been achieved over the past 4 weeks. People know about what is going on, and people care. The next step is legislative change. Then, services need to be put in place to support legislative change, that is the most important thing. That is why nothing has changed since legislative change occurred in 1968.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. For now the media is using protests to drive the conversation about Trump….just listen to the coverage. Now that the pandemic is on the rise again will the protests go to Page 2? I do not trust legislation…..we have legislation for civil rights and voting rights and look how that has turned out. chuq

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Well it is up to us whether the protests go to page 2,3,4 or stay on page 1. It is about people continuing to fight and promote the BLM movement. Let’s not forget aswell, the pandemic is a major concern still at the moment.

        Yes, legislation by itself is not effective. We need services to support the legislation. If you create legislation to support children who have been victims of abuse let’s say, but you don’t create a service which provides counselling, alternative parenting arrangements and support, then the legislation is useless. That is my point.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. WE are famous for half ass measures….and so far that is all the government has….I agree that services and education is essential if things are truly going to change. chuq

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good article. I agree with most of it.
    And i think most protests don’t start as violent until there is a mix of police teargas, opportunists and tone deaf officiando. With that mix, you set the stage for violence.

    It is not that violent protests are not productive, the problem is its destructiveness targets local amenities and leads to further marginalization. But its potential to raise awareness is immense. In fact, non violent protest with the threat of violence can be very potent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I’m intrigued as to why you think violent protest creates more awareness than non-violent protest. In my opinion, if everyone is working together, non-violent resistance can create the exact same awareness as violent protest. Except, the non-violent side actually gains respect and recognition that is vital in pushing for change.

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      1. Not violence per se, but the threat of violence is sufficient to bring people to the discussion table.
        To an oppressed person, being heard is what is crucial.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting perspective, thank you for sharing! I agree that the threat of violence can be enough to make people start talking, very true! However, in the world of social media I fear the ‘threat’ could be perceived by many as a route of action.

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  3. During the Civil Rights Movement, peaceful protesters were met with violence from ‘the state’, meaning the federal government and on the local level. You don’t remember seeing pictures of hoses and dogs being sicced on peaceful Black protesters? Those people were then jailed for their peaceful protesting. So, why is it okay for the federal government to act violently towards peaceful protesters, but yet, you seem to take umbrage with protesters who turn violent since ‘peaceful’ protesting doesn’t work either? So why don’t you ask Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., how well peaceful protesting worked out for him. It was ‘peaceful protesting’ that got him an assassin’s bullet.

    We have tried it both ways and neither works. The fact of the matter is that American descendants of slavery are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

    I lived in Minneapolis, MN for over a decade and I can tell you that what burned down was NOT owned by American descendants of slavery. Where the majority of the riots occurred is an area known to have a high concentration of immigrants from Mexico, Asia and Africa. One or two stores may have been owned by American descendants of slavery and I know this for a fact because I was in Minneapolis just as recently as this past November. And so I get so sick and tired of people going on and on about how Black people are burning down their own neighborhoods. We don’t own any neighborhoods. We don’t own multiple stores; grocery stores, banks, department stores, etc., and I am sure that you know this.

    Until whites want to tear down the system of white supremacy from which they benefit, nothing that Black people do, be it peacefully or non-peacefully is going to make a bit of difference. And I do believe you know this already.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, MLK was assassinated. But, it was his peaceful protesting that resulting in 4 legislative changes and the introduction of the civil rights act in 1968. Malcom X was not responsible for any legislative change.

      I’m not saying that the businesses that were destroyed were necessarily owned by African Americans. However, many African Americans died during the protest not by the police, some businesses were destroyed as you have noted. This whole process is about reconciliation, we in Australia are going through the exact same thing. It’s about reconciling with those who were first, violence is contrary to the action of reconciliation.

      You sound defeated. I find that disappointing. We have just witnessed 4 straight weeks of MILLIONS of people around the world leaving their normal life behind to fight for equality. People have abandoned their social media image which society asks them to create, and instead have turned to activism. We have witnessed the power of people to charge more police officers. This is a time of hope that needs to be sustained, I don’t think we should be defeated.

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      1. Again, I have to disagree with you. Nothing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and crew did, amounted to anything. The Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act which is what Dr. King fought so hard for; Black people to have the right to vote and an end to Jim Crow. Many Black people are being denied the right to vote. You haven’t heard of gerrymandering? And Jim Crow never ended, it just morphed into a different way of keeping Black people from entering certain areas of town and certain restaurants, etc. Whites started building ‘gated communities’ and now we have gentrification. And so AGAIN, nothing was accomplished. I am in the states and so I know, first hand what is going down and what has been going down for my over 40 years on this planet.

        And the only reason MILLIONS of people are somewhere protesting or whatever they want to call it is not because of some ‘awakening’ but because they are unemployed thanks to COVID-19, have been on lockdown for months and have had it. This was just the perfect storm of mess that coincided. You give people too much credit where none is due. I’m a realist. I see the reality of the situation while you want to believe in ‘hope and change’. We thought we had that with Barack Obama and that got us what? Donald Trump! I rest my case.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I will never completely understand your oppression and struggles but I will continue to listen and try to learn. I am interested however in your statement that MLK didn’t do anything. Who do you think was responsible for the civil rights act 1968?

        I disagree with you on this point completely. You are saying that millions of people were protesting just because they are sick of being in their homes? That explains nothing. That doesn’t explain the emotion on these people’s faces. That doesn’t explain the passion that led some to violence. That doesn’t explain the images of people joining together as one. Sure, maybe a few just wanted to get outside, but this was a huge movement of people joining together. I’m a realist aswell. I don’t think this is all going to fix itself in 5, 10 or 20 years. But, I am an optimistic realist, I think over time change can occur. Barack Obama wasn’t successful because he didn’t have full control of America’s politics. If Joe Biden also has support in the Senate, powerful change can always occur if it is supported by appropriate services.

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      3. You seriously lack knowledge of America’s political system. For his first two years in office, Barack Obama could have gotten much completed since both the Senate and the House were in the hands of the Democrats. Nothing got done. It was only after that control had shifted to the Republicans is when Obama claimed to have been stalled when attempting to get anything done.

        And just what did the Civil Rights Act of 1968 accomplish? Because when you look at where Black people are today, that Act did nothing. Black people are the poster children for the faces of poverty, gentrification, homelessness, mass incarceration, income inequality, illiteracy, victims of police brutality and the list of the like is endless. An Act does nothing when the same mindset is still there and the same mindset of the whites in 1968 is still very much in evidence today.

        And I know that you did not go there with regards to Joe Biden when he is mostly responsible for why American descendants of slavery are overly represented in prisons all across America due to his 1994 Crime Bill. He’s been on an ‘apology tour’ about that. You seriously need to educate yourself before speaking on issues here in America.

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      4. I’m disappointed this discussion had to go down this route. I thought we were debating some really interesting points and it was very insightful. However, I will not continue if we go down the persona attack route because that has no purpose.

        Regardless, sorry I did not know that the first 2 years of Obama’s Presidency he had control of both the Senate and the House. I made the mistake of assuming his second term was the same as his first term. What do you think needs to be done as the first step and then possibly subsequent steps?

        I wasn’t talking about the effectiveness of the act, but rather the role of MLK in creating the act. As I’ve said, legislation is only effective when it is supported by services that ensure accountability, enforcement and education.

        I do know about the 1994 Crime Bill. I have researched it heavily and understand Biden’s negative impact. My point was that the two options are Trump or Biden. Clearly Trump isn’t going to achieve anything in this area other than take us backwards. If Biden can pass legislation there is a chance change could occur due to his very progressive agenda.

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      5. Biden doesn’t have ANY agenda. The man is senile. If you even look at any of his political ads, the man is actually stumbling over his words. His nickname is “Slow Joe.” No one takes him seriously. He is NOT the person to beat Trump. With Joe Biden as the only alternative, Trump is a shoe-in. That is a fact. The Democrats don’t care about winning this election because they stand for exactly what Trump stands for. There is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. There is no longer any illusion of that.

        Have you never stopped to wonder why Black Americans fare so poorly regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is at the helm? It is because there is no difference between them. Biden is not progressive and the only reason he was picked as the choice for the Democrats is based off of Biden’s position as Obama’s VP. That is all the Democrats are throwing at Trump. Someone who mumbles, is incoherent, has been groping females for decades and was Obama’s VP. Only older voters are even thinking about Biden as most of the rest of us are sighing and throwing our hands up because there is nothing to vote for.

        Most of us are already preparing for the FACT that Trump is going to get re-elected. He has nothing standing in his way. And in fact, if you want to give anyone credit for what’s going down today, give it to Trump. He has made so many whites unhappy since they are also unemployed, hungry and broke, that they are expressing that anger towards Trump. But make no mistake, Trump’s base is still solidly behind him since racism is alive and kicking in Amerikkka and always will be.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I hear your pain and anger. I’m not saying Biden is going to transform America, but it’s about taking steps in the right direction. At least we may move forward with Biden as opposed to moving backwards with Trump. I don’t think it is a fact that Trump will get re-elected, it’s not looking that way at the moment. Do you want change to occur?

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  4. I mostly agree with what you’ve written and observed. Violent protest turns more heads and is harder to ignore for those wanting to remain complacent, which I think is the only benefit of it. I very much agree that it causes more division than it does progress. The examples of non-American instances are especially helpful. These are not unique issues nor unique responses, and we should learn from the world around us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. For protest to be valid at this point in time it is important for them to be totally peaceful, give the idiot in the Oval Office an excuse to call in the military he will do it in a flash. Keep Mr. Trump the ‘Bad Guy’, don’t let him turn all the fault onto you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think all protests start of peaceful until someone or something turns em violent. In some cases it’s law enforcement, government officials or just some bad seeds.

    And one of the comments at the beginning hit the nail on the head about the media. Violence sells and gets eyeballs and that’s all the media cares about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that is important for the media. Violence and the media is in a symbiotic relationship. However, it’s the violent acts that detract from the messages and peaceful parts of protests. If the violence can be controlled than there are options. That is why the leaders of these movements have very important decisions to make moving forward. If you exposure is because of violent acts, does that exposure promote your cause? I would personally argue not, what do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lots of insightful contributions in the comments. I did not get through all of them, so pardon me if this has been hashed out.

    “…violence by protestors can undermine public support and give politicians excuse for neglect.”

    This is a critically important point, specifically in regards to the public focus and political scapegoat. A weekend of rioting can derail a month of peaceful protesting. An image of looting will make the front page over a fist raised in the air. Destructive protesting is fixated on and scapegoated long after the act has ended. It is also a welcome distraction for politicians, especially our President, to draw attention to in order to detract attention from blatant problems that are easily identified and addressed.

    Thanks for the read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your comment and sharing your thoughts! I completely agree with you on the media’s use of violent to outweigh any non-violent protest, and how that continues all the way to the President.

      I think there are ways non-violent protests can be performed that also attracts media attention. As I referred to in my article, the images of people lying on the ground a very powerful and send a strong message. It is a different way to protest than just walking and holding up signs, therefore, it gained some more media attention. Maybe looking at different ways to protest non-violently could be effective.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Protestors and law enforcement kneeling together also attracts media attention. That’s why people lose their shit when it happens. Anything to come together and admit there’s a problem in a way that doesn’t create other problems.

        Liked by 1 person

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