The Six Principles of Nonviolence by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Throughout the semester, we have discussed various ways in which violence is implemented to get a certain point across. The alternative of violence is for us to use nonviolent tactics. This includes peaceful protests against issues we don’t agree with and although sometimes that doesn’t always seem to work out, the use of nonviolence is still encouraged. What it means to be nonviolent. For me, it means self control and discipline. In today’s world, we’re surrounded by violence.

The police use it against civilians, military personnel uses violence during war, it’s portrayed on television as funny, and its used within schools as a form of bullying. Seems as though the use of violence is praised so people won’t “punk” you, but violence only results in serious consequences. Having self-control and discipline during these times are important because the end result could be in your favor.

One issue that is still very important and quite controversial is the act of gang violence amongst our youth.

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According to National Gang Center, statistics how that approximately 48.9% of crimes are committed due to gang violence. What exactly is a gang? Well, typically everyone defines a gang in their own way. For me, the term gang means a group of people with commons goals, some good and others bad. The term gang tends to fall into three categories:street gangs: those to engage in criminal activity and violence with the intentions of claiming territory; organized crime groups: those who are in a gang for financial gains such as selling drugs and peer group, those who don’t have any criminal intent, but because of what they appear to be, they are placed under this category.

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Tom Brinks states, “There is a distinction between organised crime groups and street gangs based on the level of criminality, organisation, planning and control. However, there are significant links between different levels of gangs, for example street gangs can be involved in drug dealing on behalf of organised criminal groups.” (2016)

Studies have shown that it is common for groups of children and young people to gather together in public places to socialise, and although some of these group gatherings are most likely leading to an increased antisocial behavior, these activities should not be confused with the violence of a street gang. So pretty much, not everyone in a group is affiliated with a gang, but knowing this how can we as a community keep our youth away from the violence? This is where the six principles come into play. The six principles was adapted by Martin Luther King Jr. and using his famous, ‘Vietnam Speech’, I will be identifying how these six principles can potentially help us stop gang violence amongst our youth.

Principle One

Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Researchers claim there is a risk or potential risk of harm to the child that may result to them being a victim, a gang member or both – this is in relation to their peers or to a gang-involved relative in their household. Teens are prone to being more vulnerable and because of this, they are easier to be recruited into gangs and have involvement in gang violence. Now, I’ve always wondered what made someone want to be apart of such a community and have finally found my answer. “This vulnerability may be exacerbated by risk factors in an individual’s background, including violence in the family, involvement of siblings in gangs, poor educational attainment, or poverty or mental health problems”, according to Tom Brinks.

Principle Two

Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community. Historically, gangs have been around since 1960s when “Crips” and “Bloods” were formed. These two gangs are the most known gangs in Los Angeles, Ca and people tend to be affiliated with them more than they should. There have been studies which has shown that the use of violence amongst gang members is a sign of recognition and respect. All in which assert power and authority in the street from a large proportion of street crime.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I have witnessed plenty of events where gang violence was the end result. It would begin because of a disagreement- someone was looking the wrong way and felt disrespected or someone owed money from a drug deal. Things are always escalated to a higher rank which results in death. Police were always called and typically someone was carried in a body bag. Some childhood right? I have family members who are affiliated in a gang because for them, it just felt right. What people fail to realize is the risks of being affiliated with a gang. According to Tom Brinks, there are specific risks for both men and women who are in gangs. There is in fact a higher risk of sexual abuse for woman, such as rape, as well as a higher involvement of pursuing a gang through peer pressure. “There is evidence of a high incidence of rape of girls who are involved with gangs. Some senior gang members pass their girlfriends around to lower ranking members and sometimes to the whole group at the same time. Very few rapes by gang members are reported.” (National Gang Center,2012)

The question, ‘what does gang violence do to our children’ is forever asked. Youth commit many more serious and violent acts while they are gang members than they do after they leave the gang. An important feature of gang involvement is that, the more intensive a child is involved with a gang, the less likely they will talk about it. There are correlations between gang-involvement, criminal exploitation and young people going missing from home or care. “Some of the factors which can draw gang-involved young people away from home or care into going missing are linked to their involvement in carrying out drugs along county lines. There may be gang-associated child sexual exploitation and relationships which can be strong pull factors for girls who go missing” (National Gang Center,2012).

Principle Three

Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people. What people fail to realize is that youth gang violence is a social construct. Because people feel the sense of needing to belong, they will associate themselves with others who feel the same way. Gangs are about people, with a common motive, coming together to prove their loyalty.

In correlation to MLK’s nonviolence movements, there are some ways to help bring our youths home. There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” The famous line of Martin Luther King Jr that spoke volume to all of us because it meant that time has come in relations with Vietnam- very powerful but also a difficult mission to accomplish. Breaking the silence when seeing something happening that isn’t right, and not knowing whether people will stand by you or against you, you break your silence anyway. I have one word for this, power. This speech was an indication of King’s commitment to nonviolence.

As mentioned previously, nonviolence is about discipline and self-control. Having self-control and discipline during these times are important because the end result could be in your favor. Nonviolent resistance (NVR or nonviolent action) is the practice of achieving goals such as social change through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, satyagraha, or other methods, while being nonviolent. This is what Martin Luther King Jr was all about- peace and freedom. Another quote that stood out to me was, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos, without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world: my own government.” This brings me to principle number four.

Principle Four

Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.

Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

Within the text, King begins his speech laying out the history of the nation’s involvement in Vietnam. He begins with 1945 when Vietnam’s prime minister overthrew the French and Japanese. As the speech continues, King focuses on the increase of military costs and how these costs are taking money from domestic programs meant to fight poverty and racism. This reminds me of society today because typically poverty always comes last. I enjoyed the statement where he said, young black men ‘crippled by our society’ were being sent ‘eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they have not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.’ Crippled by our society stood out to me because growing up in Los Angeles and seeing my family struggle and seeing my friends lose everything made me want better for my family and for myself. Not to mention the feeling of losing family due to gang violence. We often grow up feeling like we have to do better and feel better but don’t know where to begin. We work 160 hours a month, making either minimum wage or less and still living paycheck to paycheck. We are crippled and stuck with no one to help us.

I asked myself why this speech of all speeches was considered to be the most startling for many of King’s supporters in the Civil Rights Movement. I assume it’s because he didn’t just address racism or segregation, but touched on more of a bigger topic. Some people believe if you stay small, you’ll be safe, but the second you begin speaking on more political issues that cause a higher uproar, you’re asking for death. I also found it ironic that exactly one year later King was assassinated. I will admit this is my first time ever knowing about the speech and it’s always unfortunate because King played a bigger role in Black history. But better late than never.

I found an audio version of him speaking on YouTube and I was blown away. Our voices have so much power and give people motivation to do just about whatever it is they choose to do. This speech touched on several topics from national values to hate to issues with war and mortality to war being fought by poor individuals. What makes this speech so unique is that King wanted to make sure that every word, every detail, every pause was captured successfully because he planned to make this speech grand. As mentioned previously, King’s tone in all his speeches are what makes his message effective. I admire how he begins his speech with humbled statements. He’s delighted and grateful for the people who came to hear him touch based on such a traumatic subject. War, for me, is useless. I understand we have soldiers who risk their lives fighting for us and keeping us safe, but war is not a sign of change. People are dying and when these individuals are dying, who’s there to protect us now? Or their family? War is just another excuse for society to believe killing others will be the solution to most of the world’s problems. But war isn’t just with soldiers, war starts with us being involved in gangs. Without getting off-topic, I believe King wanted his supporters to understand that life wasn’t always just filled with hateful racists and war, but he couldn’t just continue sitting back and ignore what he saw. Typically that’s what people do. They see an issue and believe if they ignore it, things would be different. This brings me to principle number five.

Principle Five

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish, and creative. This is why I admire Dr. King so much because no matter who stood with him or against him, he never stopped promoting change. He remained humble and true to himself.

Further into reading the speech, King said something that hit home for me. He said, “And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.” This means that NO matter how hard it becomes, NO matter how many times you have to repeat yourself, NO matter how many days you feel like you aren’t getting somewhere, YOU MUST SPEAK! King’s speech wasn’t to shame the clergymen or attack Vietnam leaders, but to address Americans who partake in these issues. Americans like to overlook certain things so they don’t have to deal with it. It’s like seeing someone assaulting someone and instead of helping, you call the police because you don’t want to be involved. Did you really help? War is a great issue and it’s Americans who have the power to make a difference. King was just honestly placing the bug in our ear and waited for us to decide what we were going to do about this issue. IT’S IMPERATIVE THAT WE SPEAK! The final principle of nonviolence is number six: PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.

We aren’t perfect and we never will be. We will forever make mistakes, but there is always a positive side to this- we can evolve.

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The Six Principles of Nonviolence by Martin Luther King, Jr.. (2021, Apr 18). Retrieved from

The Six Principles of Nonviolence by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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