“WE WASN’T committing any crime, breaking no harm to nobody, but my friend was murdered in cold blood.” These words express the sorrow of Dorian Johnson, a friend of 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown who was shot by a Caucasian policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. According to eyewitness reports, Brown was shot several times while his hands were in the air, unarmed. The policeman who shot him was kept anonymous until protests brought the police department to reveal him as Officer Darren Wilson.
This shooting was much simpler than its chaotic aftermath. Many citizens, especially African-Americans were furious at what they believed was a case of racial discrimination. They took the streets of Ferguson, protesting violently, which led to the use of measures such as tear gas by the local police and a declaration of state of emergency. The extremity of this protest, however, is not new. There is a long line of violent protests in the world. Where does their urge to protest stem from, and what progresses has it made?
Pervasive violence in protests
Violent protests are not just a recent problem. One example of such examples in the past is the historical Rodney King incident whereby an African-American man named Rodney King was beaten by several police officers after a high-speed car chase in March 3, 1991. All of them were acquitted from all charges in state court, which led to violent protests by the infuriated public.
Going further back, the Harlem Riots of 1964 were of a similar nature. After the police killed a young black boy in Harlem, New York, a violent fight broke out between some African-Americans and the policemen, which led to even more brutality in the process. This ended up in a four-day struggle between the African-Americans in the region and the police.
The protests containing a substantial level of violence are not limited to the United States. The 2011 London protests were caused by police brutality on an interracial minority, and led to violent actions resulting in more than 3,000 arrests. As these cases show, protests against discriminatory violence have often led to further violence. In the late 1980s, the protests in South Korea were often times violent outcries against the government’s oppressive treatment of the common people. Such violent riots are an ongoing phenomenon, unlimited to a specific time period or region.
Violence, the double-edged sword
A variety of factors can start violent protests. They could be caused by sudden anger, or a long-time conflict that has yet to be solved. In the case of these riots against discrimination in the United States, the prime causes are the nation’s complicated historical past regarding race, and the cultural significance of equality in this country. The historical background of deprivation of rights and the idea that “all men are equal” left many African-Americans more conscious about their own rights, giving them the urge for these protests.
These protests, both inside and outside America, have often been successful. In the Rodney King case, the protests brought nationwide attention to the case itself and racism as well. Similarly, the numerous violent riots of African-Americans in the 1960s brought higher equality for racial minorities in the form of constitutional amendments. At the very least, protests with violence have been considered the quickest way for a group to bring attention of the media and the rest of the public to the protests.
However, the violence in these protests also often leads to massive property damages, injuries, and overall ineffectiveness to the cause. Although violent protests often bring rapid attention, the protests’ purpose may easily be concealed behind the terror of violence. As a result, people tend to remember the fear and the casualties, while the purpose of the protest is less highlighted. For instance, many people remember the Los Angeles Riot simply to be a riot with many casualties, and tend to forget the fact that the protesters were protesting against police brutality. Excessive violence could also bring an adverse effect on the cause, as some people may criticize the violent acts of protesters and extend their hatred towards the cause of protest. Even in Korea, the violent protests in 2008 regarding the importation of U.S. beef through the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) gained much hatred from the public after their violence in the streets harmed policemen and passersby. As scholars Emma Thomas and Winnifred Louis stated in their paper *When Will Collective Action be Effective?*, “At worst, protest violence may undermine the very impression that the activists are seeking to create that a prevailing state of affairs is illegitimate and should be opposed.” Like this, violence out of anger may work to undermine the cause that the protesters are working towards, and do actual harm to the cause itself.
The path to effective protests
To lessen damages while increasing the effectiveness of the protests, there needs to be effort of both the protesters and the authorities. Protesters need to realize that protests do not always have to be violent or big in scale in order for it to be recognized. In fact, historically there have been a number of non-violent protests that were highly successful. Mahatma Gandhi succeeded in gaining support against discrimination by the British government towards Indians, and later independence for his country through non-violent protests. He stated “I contend that non-violent acts exert far more effective than violent acts, for the pressure comes from goodwill and gentleness.” Even in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. and other African-Americans successfully used non-violent methods of civil disobedience such as peaceful sit-ins to protest against discrimination towards African-Americans. Protesters should keep in mind that the peaceful protests emphasize their cause, not the violence, and enable them to be successful in bringing about actual changes in the society for their cause.
Effort from the authorities, most often the police or the government, is also necessary. It is true that the lack of response from these organizations contributes to encouraging the protesters to become more violent. In his study *A Study of Violent Demonstration in Korea,* Yoon Tae-young (Chief Officer, Daegu District Police Agency) stated “Protests that started out peacefully tend to increasingly become violent when they feel difficulty in getting their point across.” In order to prevent this, the government or the police should be open to listening to the protestors’ opinions and requests. This is especially true for countries like Korea where history of oppression from the authorities exist, and distrust of the authorities is prevalent throughout the public. The initiation of conversation by the authorities is helpful in calming the agitated public, and will decrease the intensity of violence in protests and provide a channel of communication between protesters and the authority.
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Protests have been and still are a part of human society. For Americans, the recent protests in Missouri take even a bigger meaning due to cultural and historical factors. Because protests represent a bigger voice to express anger, they will not stop. However, violence in protests should be subsided for the sake of others involved, as they can bring about damages and create the same anger that caused these people to rise up. To do this, the protesters and those being protested against should both work together to communicate before the situation escapes out of hand. This will enable peaceful protests not just in the United States but also in other nations where protests are fairly common, including Korea. Showing anger can be positive, as long as it does not bring negative effects to someone else. As always, balance is the key.