Let’s Take Mill’s Advice When Protesting About Michael Brown’s Case

The shooting of Michael Brown has been all over the news lately. The fatal event occurred in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th, 2014 and since then, the subsequent occurrences (that is, the trial and protests) have grown with a snowball effect. No longer do people think of Michael Brown’s death as the killing of an unarmed civilian by a police officer; now people are talking about race discrimination and the failure of law enforcement institutions to protect the people they are supposed to serve.


Protest in Ferguson. Picture by: Loavesofbread

On November 24th, a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and since that day, violent protests started all over the country. Whereas it is true that many people protested peacefully, others resorted to violence to express their frustration. There has been shootings, rallies, hundreds of arrests, tear gas breakups, fires, and many other raging demonstrations in cities like Ferguson, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington.



John Stuart Mill (Picture considered public domain in the U.S.A; author London Stereoscopic Company)

This chaos broke down while we were reading John Stuart Mill‘s book “On Liberty” for our Polsci101 class, which analyses issues such as  social values, proper behavior in society, vices, virtues, individuality, and the limits to authority over another individual. Therefore, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to explain why Mill would argue the Ferguson’s riots harm the community and won’t be beneficial in any way. This is what Mill might have said:

  • John Stuart Mill would have objected against these non-peaceful protests since he believed when someone did something you strongly disapproved of, you could argue with this person, but never use violence as a mean to demonstrate your opinion. Therefore, he would say the people who are going on the streets with signs in order to express their disapproval on the jury’s ruling have all the right to do so. They might try to convince other people and use words to prove their points; but Mill would not support any violent action against another person.
  • He would also say people are free of doing whatever they want unless they harm someone else. Mill believed people should be free to act out their opinions under any circumstance except when these actions result in harm to others. And it is no secret that the riots that have started across the nation as a reaction to Michael Brown’s case have resulted in a lot of damage. Not only has property being destroyed, people have being physically hurt as well. Ironically, the protests that started after Brown died have caused many more people’s deaths.

Michael Brown’s mother has asked protesters to remain peaceful. So has President Barak Obama, the Attorney General Eric Holder and Brown’s father. They think as Mill would have; that a violent confrontation will be counterproductive. I personally believe violence can not be fought with more violence, because then the argument has a self-defeating purpose. I don’t want to take sides on Michael Brown’s case because I don’t think it is my place to do so; I only wish people in the riots could express their opinions in a peaceful way. Go to the Diag to show your anger and sorrow, march down the streets, post your opinion on the internet  if you want, but don’t let a mother lose another son or daughter due to violence.


One comment

  1. ashdh · December 2, 2014

    This is a great post that relates what we have been learning about in class to a pressing current event. It is interesting to consider what Mill would think about the protesters that are up in arms about this incident. It is ironic that the protesters are using violence as a way to protest a violent act. Mill would condemn these violent protesters as bringing more harm rather than accomplishing anything as the author of this post states. I think that most people think about these protests in the same way. Though they may support action being taken to protest this seemingly unfair decision, this violence seems unnecessary to most people, but unfortunately sometimes social change has to be accompanied by violence in order to produce change in my opinion.


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