Are protests and riots effective? “A riot is the language of the unheard” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Young boy shouting on a megaphone in a protest

Are protests and riots effective? “A riot is the language of the unheard” – Martin Luther King Jr.


In light of the death of George Floyd, there were looting, rioting and protesting in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota whereby businesses were set on fire and shots were fired at police. Many people including myself are wondering if this will amount to anything. I supposed it is easy for many of us to say this if we do not know what some African Americans have been experiencing for years. It reminded me of the article I wrote previously with a quotation from Bob Marley “He who feels it knows it more.” People are tired and frustrated with the system in their own country and so they are showing their disapproval by rioting and demonstrating. Does it make a difference?  I don’t know but what I do know if we do not deal effectively with the inequality issue, riots will continue to take place.

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr addressed the issue about riots in a speech (see excerpt below). He believed that riots occur because we failed to address the inequality of social justice. Here we are in 2020 and this speech of 1967 is still applicable.

Excerpt from Martin Luther Speech

Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention

Are protests and riots impactful?

In the Turks and Caicos, we have had our shares of protests and demonstrations. The PDM party credited the actions of the Black Power Movement (which involved riots and demonstrations), for bringing about the introduction of the Ministerial form of Government. Of course I was too young to know about this movement but I have seen other demonstrations (mostly one day demonstrations) in Turks and Caicos and quite frankly I didn’t think the demonstrations were effective. I believe if you are going to demonstrate or riot, you should have a plan and a purpose and you should not stop demonstrating until the purposes that you have been demonstrating for have been addressed and fixed.

In United States, there are countless stories of demonstrations and riots. Some effective and some not. In the Rosa Parks incident in which she refused to give up her seat in the black section of the bus for a white person because there were no more seats available in the white section of the bus. She was arrested but out of that arrest came the birth of Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted for 381 days whereby African Americans refused to ride on the bus until they were treated with respect and there were black bus drivers. In November 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public buses was unconstitutional. This is prime example of an effective protest.


Based on stories above, protests and riots can be effective and ineffective. Some believe that peaceful protests and riots are good but will not bring about the social changes that violent protests do. Personally I believe that peaceful protests can also make a difference. It is the violent protests that complicate matters worst by widening the division gap, destroying lives and businesses.

However, like Martin Luther King Jr, I believe if we address and fix the issues of racial, social and economic inequality there will be no need to have protests and riots.  Therefore, we must not ignore the injustices that take place because the issues will remain the same. If we want to see an end to riots and protest then let us put an end to the inequalities that many of us are experiencing not only in the rest of the world but right here in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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