The importance of non-violence in social change can not be over-emphasized.
As I write this in April, 2012, more than 9,000 non-violent demonstrators have been killed in Syria over the past year. My gut reaction is that anyone who would kill non-violent demonstrators should be shot dead, but violence only creates more violence. It would probably serve justice and prevent many more deaths to assassinate the handful of self righteous people giving the orders to kill women and children, and I admit I wouldn't feel the least bit unhappy if that happened. But this is a special case where killing one or a few entirely unjust people could save the lives of thousands who would otherwise be murdered. Reason and fairness suggest that it could even become necessary.
But in our protests and demonstrations any expression of violence simply provides an excuse for those in power to use violence against us. It is reasonable for government to use force against those who destroy property or attack police, so if we engage in such activities we simply become that which we seek to eliminate - we become unjust by forcing our will upon others, and all progress toward social change will suffer as a result.
Emotions can run high when crowds of people are justifiably angry, and some may seek to express that anger through violent or destructive means. We must first remind ourselves to remain calm, to remember our purpose is establishing peace and prosperity in the world, and violence is the opposite of what we hope to achieve.
But there may be those in the crowd who lack the maturity to act with restraint, and some regimes have been known to infiltrate agitators who act violently in order to justify violence against peaceful protestors. It is up to those around such people to restrain them from violent behavior. If it is not possible to restrain violent or excessively aggressive people, move away from them, as far away as necessary so the group is not associated with the violent behavior.
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