Is ‘thug’ a code word for “black people behaving badly?” Has it become a loaded racist expression like the “N” word or has it at least become a racial pejorative, a code word that should be banned from polite society?
As someone sensitive to use of words like “aliens” to describe Hispanic immigrants and “Mafia” or “mobster” to describe members of organized criminal enterprises, including but not limited to the traditional Sicilian and Italian gangs, I admit to being pleasantly surprised when America’s first black president described Baltimore rioters as ‘thugs’.
Similarly, I thought black Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was brave also to use the term accurately to describe the greedy, destructive looters who ravaged and robbed their innocent neighbors as they trashed homes and staggered neighborhoods.
The president and the mayor spoke in the passion of the moment. The mayor later retreated from her use of the word, the president did not. Josh Earnest the White House press secretary defended Mr. Obama’s description saying Monday, “The actions of a small minority that were nothing short of criminal actions. And whether its arson, or, you know, the looting of a liquor store, those were, those were thuggish acts.”
No one can deny that burning buildings and looting liquor stores are ‘thuggish’ acts. Therefore, ‘thug’ is exactly the appropriate way to describe the rape of West Baltimore in the wake of the funeral of 25-year old Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. Sometimes cops behave ‘thuggishly’ too, and should be called out on it. Similarly, I thought the drunken University of Florida ZBT frat boys who harassed and insulted a group of disabled veterans last month were also thugs, and said so at the time.
Monday in New York a 25-year old, hero cop died after being shot in the face by a dirt bag, predatory, violent ex-con Demetrius Blackwell. Is it ok to call Blackwell a thug if he is white, but not ok if he is black? Clearly, shooting an innocent cop in the face at point blank range is a thuggish act.
On Thursday night in Baltimore, I chased an anarchist agitator who was attempting to interfere with my broadcast. “Get out of here you punk,” I shouted as he retreated into the cover of darkness. You’re a thug…a white thug.”
I’m not giving up on the word. But I do promise, that if it accurately describes a perpetrator’s conduct, to apply it to all dirt bag predatory criminals regardless of their race, color, creed or religion.