As the aggrieved part of Baltimore rises, so do the moralizing voices of local authority in their characterizations of “thug” about those they are supposed to serve.
As the mainstream media feeds on the frenzy, amplifying the negative, repeating it over and over again, its personalities, content to follow the lead of one misguided leader, repeat the terrible characterizations of those they should know are the aggrieved party. After all, those who rioted have it worse than the poorest of the poor in Nigeria or India.
As the local authorities and the media present the aggrieved party as “thug,” so rise the opportunists who pick right up and use the term for their own self-serving purposes.
Whether it’s Erin Burnett, Rand Paul, or Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, “thug” is an ugly word that should not pass anyone’s lips, in the context it is currently being used. Why? Because in addition to specific regional uses, used a certain way in a particular context, thug has become the white safe substitute word to the N-word.
Which brings me to the mayor’s use of the term on the night of April 27th, as she was announcing the curfew… It was highly inappropriate for the mayor to call her citizens thugs. Since she’s a Baltimore native, of all people, who better to understand the reasons for the upheaval? Who better to know that the rioting and looting had very little to do with Freddie Gray, and was mostly about the long-standing economic and social conditions in that part of town. Who better to know that, whatever policing problem led to Gray’s death, is the same problem that haunts the lives of those who live in the same neighborhood? Who better to understand how hopeless life must be for these young men, whether they’re still in high school or aimlessly roaming the streets?
Who better to know how deeply disappointing Baltimore’s leadership has been when it comes to lifting certain elements out of the horrific conditions they’ve endured for decades?
Using “thug” is racist and neoliberal. It is dehumanizing, demoralizing, and polarizing. These citizens of Baltimore are humans, not thugs.