Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes (D) went on CNN yesterday and attacked President Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) for referring to rioters in Baltimore as “thugs” saying, “just call them n*ggers”. It is a familiar controversy for readers of this blog. Last year, various commentators objected to my writing about the “thuggish” behavior of Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman
as inherently racist — a position that I rejected. I have continued to use thug as both a noun and adjective. Now it appears that President Obama and Mayor Rawlings-Blake are being accused of the same use of racist code words by Councilman Stokes.
In the meantime, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young apologized to rioters for calling them “thugs.”
“What we’re seeing today is not about Freddie Gray,” Young said. “It is about the pain, the hurt and the suffering of these young people. There’s no excuse for them to loot, riot and destroy our city. I made a comment out of frustration and anger when I called our children ‘thugs.’ They’re not thugs. They’re just misdirected. We need to direct them on a different path by creating opportunities for them.”
On CNN, Stokes objected to the use of the word when prompted by the host and said
“of course it’s not the right word to call our children thugs. These are children who have been set aside, marginalized, who have not been engaged by us. No, we don’t have to call them thugs . . . “calling them thugs — just call them n*ggers. Just call them n*ggers. No, we don’t have to call them by names such as that. We don’t have to do that. That is exactly what we have set them to. Now, when you say ‘come on,’ come on what? You wouldn’t call your child a thug if they should do something that would not be what you would expect them to do.”
He added that he supported the recent video of a mother slapping her son for participating in the riots, but insisted that it was the right thing to do (not because of his participation in riots) but to keep the police from killing him: “she was trying to save his life. It is clear that it’s better that she hit him than the police hit him and brutalize him and take his life from him.”
In my view, Stokes is wrong on the use of the “thug” as well as his criticism of the President and the Mayor. He views mirror an effort to bar the use of words deemed to be “codes” when used to criticize minorities. The same objections were heard earlier on this blog and other sites. Beanie Barnes was one of those calling out those who use the word: “Suddenly he was ‘classless,’ a ‘thug’ from Compton, and any manner of other negative terms that one can substitute for the N-word. Sherman was no longer human, but a racist caricature.”
I disagree with this view, which ascribes a racist rather than a descriptive element to the use of the noun. The word “thug” has been used widely on this blog to rather to people of different genders, races, and backgrounds. It is possible for blacks like whites to act like thugs. It is their behavior that is driving the use of the word like burning police cars and robbing people in the streets of Baltimore.
No, neither President Obama nor Mayor Rawlings-Blake are racists. These rioters are thugs.