Throughout the semester, we have explored diverse methods by which violence is employed to convey a particular message. An alternative to violence is the utilization of nonviolent strategies. This encompasses peaceful protests against issues with which we disagree. Though sometimes it may seem ineffective, the employment of nonviolence is still encouraged. To me, nonviolence signifies self-control and discipline. In today's world, violence surrounds us, be it the police using it against civilians, military personnel employing violence during wars, its portrayal on television as comedy, or its presence in schools as a form of bullying. While violence may earn respect, it ultimately leads to grave consequences. In such times, self-control and discipline are crucial, as they can lead to favorable outcomes.
One issue of great importance and controversy is gang violence among the youth. According to the National Gang Center, approximately 48.9% of crimes are committed due to gang violence. The definition of a gang varies for each individual. For me, a gang refers to a group of people with shared goals, some good and others bad. Gangs can be categorized into three types: street gangs, engaged in criminal activities and violence to claim territory; organized crime groups, involved in illegal activities such as drug trafficking; and peer groups, who may not have criminal intent but are labeled due to their appearance. Tom Brinks highlights the distinction between organized crime groups and street gangs based on their level of criminality, organization, planning, and control. However, there are significant links between different levels of gangs, with street gangs sometimes involved in drug dealing on behalf of organized criminal groups (2016).
Studies indicate that groups of children and young people often gather in public places to socialize. While some of these gatherings may lead to increased antisocial behavior, they should not be confused with the violence associated with street gangs. Not everyone in a group is affiliated with a gang. So, how can our community protect the youth from violence? This is where the six principles come into play, as adapted by Martin Luther King Jr. We can explore how these principles, drawn from his famous "Vietnam Speech" and "Letter to Birmingham," may potentially help us combat gang violence among the youth.
Martin Luther King's Principles of Nonviolence
- Principle One: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous individuals.
It entails active nonviolent resistance to evil, manifesting as spiritual, mental, and emotional aggression. Research indicates that certain children are at risk or have a potential risk of becoming victims or gang members, particularly if they have gang-involved peers or relatives in their household. Teens are vulnerable and susceptible to recruitment into gangs, often due to risk factors in their background, such as family violence, siblings involved in gangs, poor educational attainment, poverty, or mental health issues, as stated by Tom Brinks.
- Principle Two: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
Its ultimate goal is redemption and reconciliation, with the purpose of creating a Beloved Community. Some of the most notorious gangs, like the "Crips" and "Bloods," have been present in Los Angeles since the 1960s. Violence among gang members is often perceived as a means of gaining recognition and respect, asserting power and authority in the streets through a large proportion of street crime.
Having grown up in Los Angeles, I have witnessed numerous events where gang violence has resulted in tragedy. It often starts with a disagreement, which escalates, leading to death. The consequences of gang affiliation are severe, including a higher risk of sexual abuse for women and increased involvement in gang-related activities due to peer pressure. It is essential to address the effects of gang violence on our children.
- Principle Three: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
It acknowledges that evildoers are also victims and not inherently evil individuals. The nonviolent resister aims to defeat evil itself, not individuals. Gang violence is a social construct driven by a sense of belonging. People associate with those who share similar motives, forming gangs to prove their loyalty.
MLK's nonviolence movements can offer insights into helping our youth return to a safer environment. Breaking the silence against injustice, even at the risk of facing opposition, requires courage and power. Discipline and self-control are essential aspects of nonviolence, involving practices like symbolic protests, civil disobedience, and political noncooperation. Martin Luther King Jr.'s commitment to nonviolence serves as an example for us all.
- Principle Four: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
It accepts suffering without retaliating and recognizes the redemptive and transformative potential of unearned suffering. King's speech on Vietnam addressed the nation's history of involvement, focusing on the increase in military costs and its impact on domestic programs meant to combat poverty and racism. Poverty often takes a backseat, leading to a cycle of struggle and despair. King's speech emphasized the need for bravery and the importance of breaking silence to address pressing issues.
- Principle Five: Nonviolence chooses love over hate, resisting violence both in spirit and body.
Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unselfish, and creative. Dr. King's unwavering commitment to promoting change, regardless of support or opposition, serves as an inspiring example of nonviolent resistance. He believed that speaking out, no matter how difficult, was necessary for progress. King's speech addressed not just racism and segregation but larger societal issues, encouraging us to stand up for what is right without feeling guilty.
- Principle Six: Nonviolence believes in the universe's alignment with justice, having deep faith that justice will ultimately prevail.
God, as a God of justice, is believed to support nonviolence. As imperfect beings, we must evolve and learn from our mistakes. Gang violence, rooted in societal issues, can be combated through the adoption of these six principles. We must strive to create a society that values nonviolence and justice, where individuals are not held back by systemic oppression.
In conclusion, nonviolence offers a path to peace and freedom, seeking to transform society for the better. By adhering to the principles espoused by Martin Luther King Jr., we can work towards combating gang violence among our youth, creating a safer and more just community. It begins with each individual breaking their silence, standing up for what is right, and choosing nonviolence over hate. Our voices hold great power, and together, we can make a difference.
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