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< Back to question Is rioting ever justified? Show more Show less

Throughout the world, riots have erupted in reaction to injustice experienced by the population from those in power. Many are quick to suggest that the violent nature of the protest takes away from the cause. Others point to the real political change that arises from protesters' (and rioters') demands. But is rioting ever justified?

Yes, rioting can be justified Show more Show less

There are instances where no other action can be taken to ensure that justice is achieved, other avenues for redress have been exhausted, and some form of violence is needed to move governments to action.
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Riots inspire political change more quickly

While peaceful protesting can inspire political change, riots demand change at a quicker pace or create the change on their own
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Proponents


Context

Historically, riots and violence have produced lasting social change. For example, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Civil War featured violent conflict but resulted in political and social change.[1] One cannot deny the legitimacy of violent protests without also denying the legitimacy and reasoning of the United States' founding fathers to declare independence from the United Kingdom. Denying the justification for violent protest also implies denying the justification for social freedoms people enjoy today because their predecessors rioted.

The Argument

Democracy and peaceful negotiation are necessary to create political change. However, peaceful negotiation takes time, and sometimes, the peoples' demands—or peoples' lives—cannot wait for democratic negotiation. Political leaders may hide behind the guise of the "democratic process" when they refuse to accept protesters' demands. Yet, protests, which may escalate to riots, force political leaders to act quickly. People in power, or people who benefit from the ruling class, will not listen to the demands of the oppressed unless riots occur. Riots raise awareness to a need for political change, both for political leaders and the public.[2] Though such widespread attention can be short-lived, rioters have nevertheless amplified the cause on a larger scale than it was before. Raising awareness of the issue to the public forces the public to act on behalf of the protesters to petition their elected representatives to listen as well. Many agree that looting and rioting are never justified because violence harms people and communities. Many say that peaceful protest would be a more constructive, democratic response. Still, people in power may intentionally and consistently ignore peaceful requests. In such cases where rulers are ignorant to peaceful requests, a riot may be the only way to motivate leaders to act.[3]

Counter arguments

While rioters may claim to work on behalf of protesters and challenging an oppressive political regime, their destruction of property and businesses do not send a message of revolutionary change. Instead, riots bring more attention to the violence rather than the legitimate requests and grievances of the political movement.[4] Media attention will focus on protesters' violence rather than on instances of democratic negotiation or positive change that result from a peaceful protest. Instead of promoting political change through civic discourse, riots call attention to the need for law and order enacted by the ruling class, not the need for systematic change. In a democratic society, rioting and violence cannot be justified because rioting disrupts the social contract between the government and its citizens.[5] Citizens must use civil means to enact change, whether voting, petitioning, or organizing a community dialogue.[6]

Premises

[P1] People have a right to protest their government. [P2] Violent protest, though not ideal, may erupt after years of consistent inaction or ignorance from the government.

Rejecting the premises

[Reconsidering P1] People have a right to protest their government but only through civil, lawful, democratic means.

Further Reading

"The History of the 'Riot' Report: How commissions became government alibis for inaction" (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/22/the-history-of-the-riot-report)

References

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/06/riots-are-american-way-george-floyd-protests/612466/
  2. https://www.thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/501806-how-effective-are-protests-and-riots-for-changing-america
  3. https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/steve-chapman/ct-column-riots-minneapolis-police-george-floyd-chapman-20200529-fm2w4j3ntvcwnkjexceyhbnjmu-story.html
  4. https://www.vox.com/2020/6/2/21275901/police-violence-riots-george-floyd-minneapolis
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/violence-is-never-the-answer/2016/06/04/bbc3f038-29c3-11e6-ae4a-3cdd5fe74204_story.html?utm_term=.6b933e40d3c1
  6. https://www.medium.com/@BarackObama/how-to-make-this-moment-the-turning-point-for-real-change-9fa209806067

This page was last edited on Friday, 11 Sep 2020 at 16:07 UTC

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