The recent riots in Baltimore were the result of the people’s (mostly black communities) view/opinion that Freddie Gray was unjustly treated in the back of the police van after he was arrested and being transported to the Police station. Whether rioting was or was not the best approach by the people of Baltimore to address what was perceived as a gross injustice is debatable. History has taught us a tremendous amount about how to effectively respond to these sorts of situations. Specifically, the writings, “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Rev.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , and “Crito” by Plato have taught ways to overcome injustices, such as the perceived prejudicial treatment of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and change the world for the better. All three writers utilize the effective means of intellectually challenging unjust laws to confront perceived injustice. In “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau, he states that it is the responsibility of the citizen to the state and its laws to completely disassociate one’s self from injustice so that one will not, even remotely be associated with something that is wrong.
He acknowledges that you should follow just laws but if the government creates a law that “requires you to be the agent of injustice to another” (Thoreau 22), then you should most definitely break that law without hesitation. Thoreau further supports this by stating that if he devotes himself to “other pursuits and contemplations, [he] must first see, at least, that [he does] not pursue them by sitting on another man’s shoulders” (Thoreau 17).
For example, he is saying that it would be very hypocritical for an individual to applaud a soldier for not going to fight in an unjust war while that very person will ontinue to support the unjust government that is pursuing the war. Thoreau gives a perfect example of his thoughts through his belief in the abolishment of slavery. In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , King states that it is the responsibility of the citizen to obey the laws that are considered ‘just. ‘ But, if a law is considered unjust, one has a “moral responsibility to disobey [it]” (King 14).
King also argues that no law is acceptable and cannot be considered just whenever the group which it involves has no part in writing it, through being denied the right to vote. King exemplifies his statements about obeying just laws and disobeying unjust laws with his fight against racial discrimination. He explains that segregation is “not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful” (King 15). Therefore, you are obligated to go against the law of segregation.
In “Crito” by Plato, Socrates states that it is the responsibility of the citizen to the state and its laws to not break any laws at all. The laws, as a whole are considered one entity and thus, breaking one would be, in his mind, synonymous to reaking them all, which would cause great harm. He believes that a citizen is bound to laws very strictly and instead of breaking the laws, one should attempt to persuade the people behind the law to see the point from one’s own point of view. Socrates had broken a law and was now in jail.
But, Crito tries to explain to him that he should not have to be held accountable for his crimes as long as the law that had been broken was considered unjust. Another appropriate response to perceived injustices that all three writers agree upon is to overall, be peaceful and to use non-violent demonstrations and protests. Henry David Thoreau didn’t pay his poll tax as a way of non- violently protesting a government that allows slavery and wanted to spread it into Mexico. Thoreau would continue to spread the word and publicize his thoughts that you shouldn’t resort to violence in order to arrive upon the conclusion that you want.
The teachings of Thoreau came alive during the civil rights movement as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used sit-ins, marches, and rallies to non-violently protest the segregation of blacks from whites. At one of his Christmas sermons he said that “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a eans by which we arrive at that goal. ” King follows by his statement and demonstrates how being peaceful and using non-violent demonstrations and protests can lead to a better outcome than if you were to use force and violence.
For example, in the Birmingham Demonstrations, MLK, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), participated in sit-ins, m marches in an attempt to end the segregation of blacks from whites. On April 7th, Public Safety Commissioner, Bull Connor released police attack dogs who “[sank] their teeth into the unarmed, nonviolent Negros” (King 45) that were participating in onviolent protests. Again, on May 3rd, Birmingham decided to use force in an attempt to stop the peaceful demonstrations, which were mostly composed of students, by having the police department spray the participants with high pressure fire hoses.
These events gained national recognition and were a significant part in getting support behind MLK, the SCLC, and other blacks who were fighting for their rights. Another example of Martin Luther King Jr. using peace and non-violence to protest the segregation of blacks from whites is the Bloody Sunday marches. In the Bloody Sunday marches, large groups of rotestors marched from Selma, AL to the state capital, Montgomery in an attempt to secure equal voting rights for everyone. During the march, there were mass amounts of police brutality, so much so that the march had to be aborted.
The march, and therefore the police brutality, was broadcast around the country and led to much more support for the blacks and the civil rights movement. Former NBC News editor Andrew Mach said that Bloody Sunday was “A turning point for the civil rights movement, building public support and clearly demonstrating King’s strategy of nonviolence. ” Finally, in “Crito,” Socrates was imprisoned and instead of fighting the meetings, business boycotts, and imprisonment, as most people would, he went along, peacefully, with his imprisonment.
He saw no reason for violence and that it is a “sin even against your parents, and it is a far greater sin against your country” (Berges 5). As Socrates sees it, violence harms the state and should be avoided at all costs. Collectively, the three authors, each from different eras, support a non- violent approach as a means to rectify perceived injustices. Finally, another view that all three authors agree on while you re contesting an injustice is that it is acceptable to break laws that you deem are unjust as long as you understand and are willing to accept the consequences that are to follow.
To oppose slavery, Henry David Thoreau chose to decline to pay his poll tax. In July of 1846, he was arrested and given the option to pay a fine or be jailed. Since he felt very strongly about the issue of slavery, and was going to oppose it and refuse to pay his poll tax no matter what, he accepted the fact that he was thrown in jail. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested due to the fact that he as parading without a permit. Instead of arguing the fact that he was arrested, he argued the law behind it.
King realized that he was breaking a law and was willing to “accept the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice” (20). In “Crito,” Socrates had broken a law and was to be imprisoned and put to death. Normally, one would fight their conviction. But, Socrates had been living in Athens for seventy years and was obligated to leave whenever he chose. Therefore, he, if anyone, should know of the laws and their consequences and have to abide by the aws and accept whatever consequences came with them.
Crito attempts to convince Socrates that because the law that he broke is possibly unjust, it is acceptable for him to escape jail. But, Socrates argues that two wrongs do not make a right and that even if the law that he broke was unjust, he still broke the aw and that he will be breaking another if he were to attempt to escape. Despite the amount of time that separates when each of these essays were written, a common theme is evident as they all relate to responding to civil injustices. Each of the authors support a similar approach to respond to civil injustice.
By intellectually challenging unjust laws, being peaceful and protesting in a non-violent manner, and accepting consequences if you are to break a law that you deem unjust, the authors provide a recipe to contend social and civil injustices. The people of Baltimore did not follow any of these approaches after Freddie Gray died in the back of the police van on his way to the station. As a result, racial tensions were heightened nationwide. Being familiar with history and following the common themes associated with the writing of King, Thoreau, and Plato would have likely defused rather than escalated the racial tensions that ensued.