Guest Blogger: Shane Samuel

Does Violence Equal Change?

As I sat in my American Studies class and watched the ending scene of the movie, Do The Right Thing, I felt a sense of confusion. Watching the people of Bedstuy Brooklyn, destroy the property of the neighborhood pizzeria as a way to retaliate against police brutality— which resulted in the death of a neighborhood resident— I was on unsure as to whether or not their actions was justified.

I believe violence is necessary when the people in power do not want to compromise or listen to those in the minority. By minority I am not solely referring to different races, although it will be the basis for this article; instead I use the terminology to refer to groups that are not heard in society.

I am not saying violence is the end of all means, I understand that violence can actually make things worse. However, I view violence as a form of democratic rebuttal in the sense that it is used to make a statement to those who refuse to listen. The Los Angeles riot of 1992 is a perfect example of how effective the use of violence was. After the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, thousands of people took to the streets of L.A. and raised havoc for over 6 days, causing millions of dollars in damage.

As a result of this, the four officers were retried and although only two of them were found guilty, at least some justice was achieved. Sure, one can make the argument that the marches held by Martin Luther King Jr are examples of how the use of non-violence can be a success, but I think those marches were the exception. The reason I say this is due to the 2006 police shooting of Sean Bell.

Just like the beating of Rodney King, the officers involved in the shooting were acquitted of all charges. However, a riot did not break out, instead hundreds of people took to the street for a peaceful protest but nothing was done, the incident was brushed off by those in power; so how effective is non-violence.

To bring my argument into more recent times, take a look at Egypt, where the use of violence was necessary in order to achieve the change the people of Egypt wanted. The revolution started with acts of civil disobedience similar to the marches held by King, but no real change came about—besides the shutdown of internet access. It was not until the people of Egypt started to get violence that the Egyptian government actually started to take them seriously, which eventually led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

The 2011 Egyptian revolution was reminiscent to the overthrow of the Paris commune in 1871, where Parisians used violence as a democratic rebuttal to the dictatorship of the Parisian government. These events show how the use of violence is sometimes necessary in order to achieve change.

Returning to the movie I mentioned earlier, after the people of Brooklyn rioted; it not only garnered a lot of attention but it resulted in the mayor calling for an investigation of the cause behind the riot—something I doubt would have happened if they peacefully protested. Do not get me wrong, I am not radical by any means; I agree that violence should not be the first thing one should result to but I do believe the use of violence is necessary when your cry is being ignored.

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7 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Shane Samuel

  1. Esther Altomare says:

    I cant help but disagree with this, while there are plenty of examples in which, yes, violence has resulted in positive results for a group that is being oppressed to me, this is never the answer. This violence only shows those in power that they are justified in their mistreatment of certain individuals. I understand that violence may seem like the easiest solution in some cases but I really do believe that violence in many ways only perpetuates the mistreatment of individuals. Martin Luther King Jr. is not the only activist who has led an incredibly successful nonviolent movement that resulted in change. Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Andrew Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, and Lech Walesa, just to name a few, have all participated in their own respective nonviolence resistance campaigns successfully ending in change. It’s idealistic to state that all violence in the world will be eradicated; however, I honestly feel the least amount of violence the better for society as an entity.

  2. Katie York says:

    I’m not really a fan of violence and I don’t think it’s the best way to handle things but I do agree that sometimes you just don’t have a choice. I like how you brought up the Los Angeles riot because that is a great example. I that case it was the only way they could be heard. It’s true that a lot of minorities can’t always negotiate because in some cases they just aren’t listened to. If they want to get a message across I think that violence, even though it is not the best way, is unfortunately one of the most effective ways.
    I think that because martin Luther king junior was so highly respected and had many followers he was able to pull off a peaceful march, which is one of the reasons he is such an icon today. Getting a message across peacefully, especially an issue as intense of theirs is a highly respected skill and it’s not easy to do. I do agree though that peaceful protesting should always be tried first before resorting to violence.

  3. Ashley says:

    You know, it’s kind of funny, I’ve wondered this for a couple of years as well. In high school, I was HUGELY into Model United Nations–a couple of times a year, we’d get all dressed up business-casually and go to conferences around the state and northeast, represent various countries, and debate international issues in the format of the United Nations. I LOVED it. Sure, it was all just a simulation, but in the same way that serious gamers can lose days inside their monitors, sometimes I think we earnestly believed we were solving real global crises. We were the future. And then of course we had speakers come–real UN diplomats, once a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, various people from whatever “theme” the conference was about–and it made it that much more real.

    The thing was, by my senior year, while I still loved it, I was getting skeptical. I was kickass at it, but it was all formulaic and I was realizing that the UN didn’t have any real power. Sudanese government murdering its own citizens again? What can we do? Impose sanctions? What does that mean, anyway? Well, you can STRONGLY ENCOURAGE member nations to stop trading with Sudan. But there’s no “oomph” behind that. You couldn’t MAKE anyone do anything. No fuel under the fire. As for Sudan itself, well, you can basically shake a finger and say “tsk tsk, shouldn’t do that!” and send in defensive troops to provide protection to any humanitarian task forces that are helping the citizens, but other than that, the UN can’t do a damn thing. Because they can’t act OFFENSIVELY. Because they can’t use violence.

    It was definitey sobering, and a more than a little disappointing to realize that this organization which I had been emulating and idolizing for 4 years was, in effect, handicapped by its own charter. But I now really believe it is true.

    Same thing, to some extent, with “being nice.” You can try. And try. And try. But what do you usually have to resort to in the end? Violence–or at least serious threats/removal of privileges. One of the duties of house manager is to make sure the dishes don’t pile up in the sink to fire-hazardous levels. In one of the houses, theres a serious dishwashing problem, and the house manager tried everything: having a washing schedule, signing out dishes by individual members. What finally worked?? Unplugging the television and taking it itno his room, and refusing to return it until the dishes were done. So it’s not quite killing-civilians, but it’s a step up from the threatening post-it note, for sure.

    In other words, I concur. I’m pretty sure violence is the only answer.

  4. Stephen raulli says:

    I don’t have a ton to say on the topic, to be honest. I’m a firm believer that violence is not the answer. If you murder someone’s father, what will stop them from becoming angry at everything you represent? People hate Americans because of one man. Let’s say violence does end a certain situation–does it really end it? There are many lives effected and left behind. 60 years later, racism against Asians still stems from Pearl Harbor. The war ended–its aftermath has not. An act of violence has major repercussions.

    But to those who do believe that violence may be the answer, I think it’s only right that they immerse themselves in the violence and not just be a spectator. If you believe in the war, sign up to go over there. Or, send a loved one in the heart of the battle. There’s a disconnect people are making between violence and emotions. Think of the person you love the most. Now imagine them with a bullet in their stomach. Do you feel resolved?

  5. Jay Montross says:

    “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. … God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion; what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” — Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787

    Civil disobedience is one of the greatest abilities we as citizens of a democratic country hold. The quote above given by Thomas Jefferson displays his ideals of how violence can necessary tool when trying to establish an institution. Jefferson is one of the founding fathers of the United States and one of the major influences in constructing the rights of a individual. If i do say so myself looking around at whats going on in this world i would have to say Jefferson did a pretty good job of creating laws and ideals that have lasted over 200 years without a another rebellion. At the same time he was also the same person who wanted a sickle founding every 20 years to make sure the powers of the authority are not abused in anyway.

    Political theorist Hannah Arendt says it best when referring to the power and authority of the gov’t. These two words were used in reference to abuse of power done by the French Monarchy in the 18th century leading up to the French Revolution. The majority of people during this time resided in the lower class system poor class that was not getting any better. As history plays out when a minority or a majority are labeled as lower class with no way of improvement, the institution creating this uneven distribution will cease to exist. So how do we rebel to the point of making a country stronger but, at the same time not putting that country into utter chaos?

    Thomas Jefferson answers this question years before the French Revolution ever occurred. After the gaining Independence from Great Britain the people of the new world established one of the most ineffective govt’s that almost lead to another rebellion. The creation of the bill of rights prevented the gov’t ability to abuse power and came from the ideals that every man was created equal. The country has a better starting point than say a dictator who only gives laws and rules pertaining to his needs. So, yes i agree with you the idea that violence is sometimes a necessary tool when confronting an unjust ruler or law but, the ideals and morals that started the movement cannot be lost or blurred because then we have a French Revolution on our hands. Also, the modern age and new inventions in technology have allowed the ability of pictures and news to travel quickly. Therefore people in a free median societies have the ability to almost keep check on the gov’t or else the will be publicly ruined. Trust me no politician does not want to be re-elected.

  6. Graham P. says:

    Well, I think anybody that thinks all conflicts can be solved without violence is being way too optimistic. People are often irrational. People make irrational decisions (e.g. violent actions). In an ideal world, obviously everybody would be able to solve his or her problems through conversation. I don’t encourage people to be violent nor am I violent myself. However, violence is sometimes, not often, the answer. If we look back on World War II, would the appropriate response have been to just sit back and let Hitler perform genocide? I don’t think Hitler would have cared if America just engaged in non-violent protest. You cannot reason with irrational people. There are going to be times in history where violent intervention is necessary. Even Gandhi only resorted to a peaceful revolution because he didn’t have the means to stage a violent one. Whenever one is given an option, one should choose to be peaceful over violent. But, that doesn’t mean you should let yourself or others be bullied because you are so committed to peaceful resolution. The only time there will be peace on earth is when violence ends human life. Conflict is an unavoidable consequence of life – there will always be people who are proud, greedy, and cruel. If somebody could objectively look at every situation and decide and outcome, then no I don’t think violence will be necessary. However, as long as humans are inherently imperfect, violence will be a necessity for justice in life.

  7. seanyh91 says:

    I think the film; Do the Right Thing is a perfect example of intercultural relations. This film is about the conflicts of an Italian pizzeria owner and his son’s friends. Sal’s son Vito grows up to be friends with Mookie, who happens to be black and lives next to the pizza shop. There has always and will always be racial distinction between African-Americans, whites, Asians, Mexicans, etc. This film is a great representation of how a white man living in an African-American superior community and still feels as though he has more power than them. Ever since the beginning of slavery, the U.S. has tried to do whatever they can to diminish black communities just because they look different. Conflicts with different races lasted so long all the way up until the 1960’s when MLK finally said, enough is enough. In today’s society the conflicts between races has changed and has become much better overtime, however the thoughts of inequality are still in our minds because the idea of being “different” than someone else has been drilled into our head for so long.

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