The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines unjust as “characterized by injustice: Unfair. ” At the same time it defines a law as “a binding custom or practice of a community. ” With both definitions in mind an unjust law can be described as “a binding custom or practice of a community characterized by injustice and unfairness. ” Today one can see unjust laws across the globe, many of which are overlooked by much of the world. At the same time, just laws are often enforced in an unjust manner.
The fact that much of the world is corrupt is an obvious fact, however, the appropriate course of action to bring about change, is not always so easy to see. The proper guidelines for bringing about justice are different to different people. Nevertheless, if one observes the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. and compares them to the actions of other groups or individuals who have attempted to bring about social change, a simple conclusion can be reached. Nonviolent means of protest are the most effective way to bring about change, and also the best way to give others an understanding of why the change is necessary.
Injustices exist everywhere, from the Middle East where women are often forced to pay a dowry (Flueckiger), which is “the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage”; to the mass genocide and forced sterilization of the Montagnards, a Christian tribe of Vietnam’s Central Highlands region (Montagnards): or even the questionable rights of gays in America relating to marriage. But what can be done? Dr. Martin Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (179). This shows that he believed every injustice needed to be righted or it would eventually affect a great number of people. However, can committing an unjust act to break down an unjust law be considered morally acceptable? On this issue, both King and Socrates stood firm in their belief that a man could not do wrong because he was wronged himself. Even nearing death, Socrates refused to break a law he considered unjust because it would make him no better than those putting him to death.
Before being put to death Socrates conversation with Crito showed he was against fighting injustice with injustice. Socrates posed the question “? in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of the consequences, whether better or worse, shall we insist on the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and a dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we say so or not? ” Crito answered “Yes,” and Socrates countered with the question “Then we must do no wrong?
” Crito answered “Certainly not,” and Socrates again countered with a question, which was “Nor, when injured, injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all? ” with Crito responding “Clearly not” (Plato 236). This clearly shows that Socrates was against committing any injustices no matter what the circumstances. King in the same way encouraged nonviolence as a response to the injustices being committed towards him and other blacks; showing that it takes a better man to fight with love than with violence.
Throughout his days as a leader, King showed that bringing about understanding is the most effective way to change unjust laws. This becomes obvious when one sees the results that can be accomplished through understanding. If a law were to be outlawed without showing its supporters why, many would still support without hesitation. However, if a person can be shown why a law is wrong or unjust and can begin to understand the unwarranted anguish caused by the law, that person may change their ways. King proved this by allowing whites across the United States to understand the plight of African Americans everywhere.
Through this understanding, whites were able to develop empathy for blacks, there by leading whites to engage in the crusade for equal rights in America. This is also why Henry David Thoreau’s idea of simple disobedience is not the best way to cause changes seen as necessary. Thoreau said “I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the state, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually” (295). This, however, would do nothing more than undermine the government and cause social unrest. King never refused allegiance to America, he merely brought attention to laws he felt to be unjust through
peaceful means, thereby giving people a better understanding of the injustices faced by blacks. Simple disobedience leads only to chaos, not understanding. The riots in Cincinnati were a perfect example of this. In this unfortunate situation, several young black men were killed by Cincinnati police officers, and as a result many people from black communities began inciting riots. The black community felt that a just law, the use of deadly force when necessary, was being used in an unjust manner by the Cincinnati police force. This was due to the fact that 15 black males had been killed by police over a six year period (White).
These riots not only destroyed much property but also led to many people being injured. By the end of the riots, the only thing these people had accomplished was to make themselves look like animals. Also, the black community failed to realize two things before inciting the riots. First, the Jazz Fest, a black festival held in Cincinnati was approaching and second, they were rioting in their own neighborhoods. After the riotous acts in Cincinnati, the festival was cancelled, and black businesses were also hurt because the riots took place in black neighborhoods (White).
The rioting eventually stopped, but the black community found itself in a worse situation than when the riots had begun. No progress had been made towards getting the use of deadly force by police under control, and now, many citizens were afraid to return to the neighborhoods in which the riots had taken place. Thus proving that love and kindness generate more sympathy and understanding than mindless violence does. Therefore, nonviolence can lead to the changing of a law much more effectively than civil disobedience can.
The changing of a law usually requires much debate by both sides, but if an unjust law is changed merely to satisfy a group of people, is this ok? The question of gay marriage in America relates to this question very well. If gays were simply allowed to be married to get them to stop protesting, would this satisfy the problem? No, in all actuality it would probably intensify it. Is the law banning gay marriage were reversed, then all those opposing gay marriages would be protesting, and the problem would still remain, only with different people opposing the law. This is why people must learn to understand each other.
When a person can see why a law may be changed, this can help them to better understand the intentions of those on the opposing side, hopefully leading to a mutual respect for each of the parties involved. Once respect for an opponent can be achieved, discussions of what can be done to change an unjust law can be more open and civilized. On the other hand without respect, discussions and mediation can do nothing accept intensify a problem. The Montagnards of Vietnam would probably be best able to gain support for their cause if others could learn to understand them.
This Christian tribe has been persecuted since the Vietnam War. For 34 years these people have been subjected to mass genocide and their population has dropped from approximately 3 million to under 650,000. For assisting American soldiers during the Vietnam War, nearly half of all the adults of this tribe were killed alongside the U. S. soldiers, and since that time the women of the tribe have been forcibly sterilized to keep the population from growing. This is definitely an unjust law since it denies the people their natural freedom to bear children.
The U. S. has the power to bring about an end to this through non-violent means. The Vietnam Human Rights Act proposes that the U. S. deny the Vietnamese government all non-humanitarian aid until repression of the Montagnards ends (Montagnards). In the end, what it comes down to is respect for others, and a willingness to listen to the opposing side of an argument. Once people can learn to respect each other, they can be more rational in solving problems that affect everyone. There by leading to a world in which everyone can be closer in equality.