What is the appropriate response to court decisions which seem to play down violence against black people? Should we re-examine the tenets of nonviolence established by civil rights figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., to determine whether they are really effective? This question is especially relevant given the recent court ruling over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. If we think about it, we don’t necessarily have to be spineless and yielding to effect change peacefully.

White Cops and Black Lives

protestThe incident took place on August 9th, 2014, when police officer Darren Wilson blocked Brown with his police car in connection with a nearby robbery. According to his own testimony, Wilson attempted to open his car door, Brown slammed it shut, and when Wilson re-opened it, Brown hit him in the face. Wilson fired several shots, Brown ran away, and when Wilson pursued him, Brown put his hand under his shirt, at which point Wilson fired the fatal shot. Some protesters have contested the argument that Wilson’s account of the incident justified the use of deadly force, and witnesses have provided accounts which suggest Brown was turning back around to surrender to Wilson, not to attack him.

Peaceful protests and violent riots quickly followed a St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson for shooting Brown, and quickly spread to cities across the United States and even other parts of the world. The town of Ferguson was a scene of unrest, with shops being looted and cars being set ablaze amid military-like police reinforcements. Even placed as far afield as Portland, Oregon saw skirmishes between police and demonstrators. Very quickly, a social media campaign using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter went viral, and protesters against Black Friday retail sales even demonstrated in solidarity with Ferguson protesters.

Re-thinking Nonviolent Protesting

Pundits and commentators took the Ferguson ruling as an opportunity to revive discussions on nonviolence. Among those challenging the standard view advocating nonviolence was journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, who said in an Atlantic article that “property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America”, pointing out how such progress was achieved through slavery and theft of Native American land. Even if looting is wrong, he argues, because whites have used violence against blacks to improve their socioeconomic status in the past—thereby building up the “democracy” we know today—black people have the right to be “skeptical” about lectures on nonviolence.

Others have stalwartly endorsed the practice of fighting for change through nonviolent resistance. “If you’re going to protest, protest in a peaceful, orderly, nonviolent fashion…in the way of peace, in the way of love, and nonviolence”, urged Atlanta Congressman and early civil rights leader John Lewis in an Atlanta news website, telling his audience that “[y]ou want to bring about the beloved community. That’s the way we must do it”. There was a similar call for vigilant nonviolence in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Rev. Herman Henderson cried, “[w]e demand justice, we demand it tomorrow. We demand justice, and we demand it now. We’re not going to burn our own buildings down, we’re not going to burn down our communities.” The message from was one of impassioned but peaceful resistance: another protester by the name of Harry “Traveling Shoes” Turner admonished the crowd, “Do not touch property. Do not touch people. But let your voice be heard”.

The rage and frustration felt by people around the country and the world over the Ferguson ruling is understandable. Brown’s death at the hands of Wilson represents a larger trend of unpunished violent crimes against black people by privileged white people in positions of power. The important question is which way we can best obtain justice. We do not have to behave either like timid little mice, or like stampeding elephants—we can obtain justice peacefully through determination, hard work, social media campaigns, and strategic community organizing efforts.



Alabama Media Group

The Atlantic

BBC World News


The Washington Post


  1. Paula Shea says:

    I really don’t understand what it is that people expect Police to do. They are in a no-win with a segment of society that they(police) are constantly risking their own lives to protect. Do these citizens want criminals stopped or not? Why should they expect police, who are not paid great at all, to put their lives at risk when someone does not cooperate but instead clearly defies the polices instructions? Police have families too. If the police don’t respond in poorer areas because of fear of injury to themselves and violent public reactions to any efforts to defend their own lives, then more violence would ensue. What do these people offer to counteract the violence and criminal behaviors against the police and public? If someone chooses to resist arrest, they are choosing whatever consequences from their actions. I do not understand those who defend these criminal actions. I hate that anyone dies from resisting arrest, but all they had to do was comply with the officers instructions, which they instead choose not to do, but instead put police in the position of feeling they must act to protect themselves and the public.


      Well Paula, the first thing I want police to do is realize they are supposed to uphold the law and protect American citizens. They are not part of the Marines or the Navy Seals and do not have to use excessive force. I wonder why officers who are skilled in firearms have such a hard time wounding people in the legs to disable them from retreating or attacking (Michael Brown). In the case of Eric Garner, when an American citizen says, “I haven’t been doing anything wrong.” or “You people are always harassing me,” those are phrases which indicate to me a red flag. Wait, this guy has been targeted before and feels threatened. He never ran, he did not fight the police officers in any way. He had his hands up the entire time. He told them, “Do not touch me.” Again, red flag, something more is going on here than a guy resisting arrest. Further to the point, when a man says “I can’t breathe 11 times, that should be taken seriously. Especially when this man is NOT retaliating or trying to harm officers in any way. How much more compliant can a citizen be?

  2. Ed Diviney says:

    I find it extremely troubling that even those claiming to be men and women of God begin discussions like this by misrepresenting the facts. I agree that any protest should be non violent. Any protest or discussion about this subject must be based in fact not emotion if progress can ever be made. Honesty, integrity, education and a few more traits are needed to improve this situation. First the statistics contradict the claims that White Cops are killing Black Men in increasing numbers. I have heard several Black Men that actually have the right ideas, Charles Barkley for one. I believe that Al Sharpton, Louis Farakan, Eric Holder, and Barack Obama are every bit as racist and bigoted as the KKK. I believe they have done more to harm race relations than anyone. The liberal / progressive philosophy, welfare, abortion, pre marital sex, drug and alcohol use have all contributed to the deterioration of the African american family and community. Statements being made by many of the so called African American leaders are very reminesent of statements made in the 60’s by white supremist bigots. The claim that there is a trend of unpunished violent crimes against black people by White people in positions of power is an outright lie that only serves to inflame the situation. The facts were that officer Wilson was doing his job, apprehending a violent criminal and protecting the community from a violent ciminal thug. I pray that he and his family will be safe and that he will be able to provide for them in a profession he loves and is very good at.

    1. Jim Petralia says:

      Any intelligent person knows that the African American family was far better off when they lived and worked on the plantation. With no chance to improve their lot, no education, no freedom, no control over their own destiny, they must have been much happier. It’s a shame they became ambitious, or “uppity”.
      I would be surprised if you weren’t in favor of black abortion.
      I’ve got an opening for a small family to come and live on my property, free room and board. All you have to do is everything I want you to do. Interested?


      Your words are disturbing. Your mentality seems caged. I am pretty speechless after reading your post. REALLY????

  3. Christian Mabanga Stone SG says:

    We are all from in the creature that has been created by God…..Think about South Africa….I now we do have Obama….Let be more united and avoid separation and discrimination talk….Community communtities…so who is black? or who is white? we do have all red blood. May God bless all of you….Ask a spirit of understanding.

  4. Stan says:

    It is a sad result that has been formed over the years. When the Police tells a person they are under arrest & that person refuse to cooperate either due to lack of training by parents & society itself, there is a possibility that the result will be harm to one or the other. Instead of allowing a peaceful arrest, Many people prefer to cause a scene, instead of thinking things through. To watch the video, it was a sure sign that the guy was going to get arrested, due to the number of officers, but instead of doing as he was told, he chose to resist.There lies the problem. His death was not the result that the police wanted & it is sad that it occurred due to the choice of his actions.


      It seems that he had experienced being harassed by the police in the past and this is why he was perturbed from the start. Unless you have had this happen to you personally, it is probably hard to understand why Eric Garner, an American citizen, felt he had the right to speak up for himself and say, “I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”


    During my three years while earning my Master of Divinity Degree from Wake Forest Divinity School my classmates and I were involved in a myriad of social justice issues. As a minister, if you are not standing for the oppressed, the scorned, and those who are marginalized, why are you a minister?

    The police force should not be a military minded institution reacting against American citizens as if we are terrorists. We pay their salaries because we want them to uphold the law and protect the rights of every citizen. It is phenomenal to me how James Eagen Holmes, a white guy, was able to shoot up an entire movie theater, wounding and killing numerous people, but was apprehended alive. Yet the police could not manage to wound Michael Brown in the leg as to render him immobile, nor could they resist piling on top of Eric Garner as he lay on the concrete unable to breathe!!!!! nor could they resist shooting the twelve year old boy in Ohio who had a toy gun!

    I leave you with one of my most respected authors and holocaust survivor’s words, Elie Wiesel:
    “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
    ― Elie Wiesel


    “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
    ― Elie Wiesel, Night


  7. Terry Root says:

    The misguided judgments of man will continue to be a focus of the media. yet we don’t hear about other ethnic groups ….. it’s always bad blacks, bad cops ( note** I believe this year alone over 2500 police officers lost thier lives in the line of duty protecting innocent people) …… and on and on ….. what about the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Native Americans, Cubans, Hispanics, and all the other “melting pot people here in America? Maybe it’s time we started to scream BAD PRESS!! …… BAD MEDIA!! …… poor choices of the new being reported!! ……
    Heres an interesting story ….. many of you remember the Rodney King incident ….. I am from the east coast but was in the exact area 2 weeks after this incident happened. being a “white person” I did have some concerns …… I jokingly ask someone if i needed a machine gun and guards to go into this area …… I happened to ask another white person and the answer I got was a true eye opener!! …….. After inhaling several times and getting a grasp on his temper he said …… I live down there!! and that is the most rediculious thing I’ve heard!!! ….. and it’s not your fault!! What the “world was told and showed” by the media was a complete lie!! …… he then began to tell me how the media cut and pasted clip after clip of footage from numerous incidents that took place over a period of a year or more. They had the knowledge to make it look like all hell had broke loose!!. Some footage was the same shot at different angles and made to appear like many things happening instead of the same incident.
    Here’s my bottom line ….. the media needs to be held accountable for the racial issues they continue to perpetuate on a daily basis. DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU SEE OR HEAR …… A LOT OF IT IS NOT TRUE!!

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