In a peaceful demonstration, are all members resposible for the few that are violent?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How can anyone ever be responsible for anyone else? If I choose to go to a demonstration and protest, that's fine.  If you go to a demonstration to protest, that's fine, too.  If you stand next to me and decide to toss Molotovs around, how am I responsible for that?!? As others have posted, I may not like nor condone it, but that's different than being responsible for the actions of the person next to me.  Of course, the violent actions of a few will taint the peaceful assembly of the many; that is the unfortunate risk you incur when protesting.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A person who is peacefully protesting has no legal connection to anyone who is protesting violently, but from a practical viewpoint, anyone in a crowd in which violence is occurring may suffer from whatever enforcement actions are used against the violent protesters.  As we've seen time and again, when violent people and the authorities clash, peaceful people get caught up in the violence simply because they may be near the violence.

Even if one argues that a peaceful member of a crowd has a responsibility to act against violence, that act is usually violent by its nature and adds to the overall violence.  If a peaceful crowd action devolves into violence, the only practical solution is for the peaceful participants to leave the area.  Most sociologists who study crowds conclude that many crowds begin to exhibit the characteristics of the worst-behaving member of the crowd, and if that behavior becomes dominant, there is no longer a chance for peaceful protest anyway.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I also agree wholeheartedly with post #3 that one cannot abdicate individual responsibility and blame it on herd instinct. Such a practice is both cowardly and dishonest. All of us have some innate sense of right and wrong; and if group actions tend to violate our moral compass; then we can't use the old "everyone else was doing it" excuse. If actions turn violent, one should excuse himself forthwith; otherwise he is equally culpable with the perpetrator.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

So, as the discussion has demonstrated, there is no one all-inclusive right or wrong way to answer the question. If I am part of a peaceful demonstration and am on the far side of the crowd from someone trying to commit some sort of act that is not nonviolent, no - I am not directly responsible for that person's actions. If I am close by and become aware of another person's intent to disrupt the peaceful activities of the demonstration, then I am probably morally bound to at least make an attempt to dissuade or forestall the disruption. As with many situations in life, it's not an all-or-nothing distinction.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I'm with #3. If you are demonstrating in a group and a few members begin to act in a violent or destructive manner, you have a moral responsibility to be a good citizen and attempt to curtail their behavior. If you do not, you are in a sense approving of that behavior; it's the mindset of "Well, I would never act in that way... but I understand it and I can't disagree with it... but I would never do it!" It's a tacit agreement, and if you condone violent behavior you are enabling it. The only response is direct intervention, or, if you are unable to get involved, disavow it and move away from it. If you are standing outside City Hall with a sign and a guy comes up with Molotov Cocktails, you should, at the very least, leave! Don't stand around and get in the way. By the way, if a violent person identifies himself with your movement, disavow him and refuse to allow him near your gatherings! Don't accept them for the numbers and then act shocked when they act violent.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Unfortunately, I think that they will have to bear some of the blame, even though it is only the actions of the few that might ruin a peaceful protest. Although authorities seem to be able to differentiate in some cases between the peaceful throng and the violent minority, it is incredibly hard to not allow the peaceful protestors to be tainted by the violence of just a few.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

They shouldn't be, but inevitably they will be.  I think it is a little too easy to say that the group should show its disapproval of the violence.  How, without violence of your own, do you do that?  I'm not sure.  So I don't think that the group can prevent those who want to be violent from being violent.  But in the court of public opinion, the groups will be held responsible anyway.  Any violence tarnishes a protest, not matter how few participate in it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In a peaceful demonstration, there are usually many people. This means the group cannot be culpable for a few. Not everyone would know what is going on. However, the group has a responsibility to condemn the actions of the few and distance themselves. They can argue that the few violent one in a peaceful demonstration must not represent the group. If they do not do this, then we can say that they implicitly or tacitly condone the actions of violence. In this sense, there is a level of culpability.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I am glad to see a distinction between moral and legal culpability in this discussion.  I would agree that there is a moral obligation to try to stop violence.  However, there is never any legal duty to do so unless one is an "officer of the peace."  As dreadful as it might seem, I can stand in front of my house and watch one person knife another person to death, and I am completely innocent of any legal wrong-doing.  In fact, there was a rather famous case many years ago in which dozens of people watched from their apartment windows while a woman named Kitty Genovese was knifed to death. Not a one of them even called the police.  Not a one of them committed a crime.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would say it depends upon their reaction to the few who are violent. If they try to discourage violence, if they take action to prevent or stop violence, and/or if they condemn the violence, then I would say that they are not responsible.  If they stand by and fail to act in any way while the violence is taking place, or if they fail to condemn it once it does take place, then I would say that they lose a great deal of moral stature. If they go to a demonstration knowing that there is a great likelihood that it will turn violent, then once again I think they can be considered morally culpable to some degree.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial