Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes condemns calling rioters “thugs;” compares this to calling them “ni**ers.”
– News report
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake calls rioters “thugs” but later apologizes.
– News report
Thug: A brutal ruffian or assassin, gangster, tough.
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
It’s déjà vu all over again.
– Yogi Berra
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.
– Mark Twain (attributed)
It never fails. A serious problem presents itself, and before we can deal with it – or even identify it – some people rush in to distract us with trivia, sidetrack us with peripheral issues, and weaken us with baseless accusations.
Has a young black man named Freddy Gray died in police custody with severe head and neck injuries of uncertain cause? Have six police officers been arrested on charges ranging up to murder? Has Baltimore been wracked by destructive riots, looting, and arson? How many decades will the burned-out CVS pharmacy remain a vacant lot instead of a community resource? Where will the users of the burned-out senior center go? Where will those who were employed at the burned-out businesses find work now?
No, let us put these serious problems aside and busy ourselves with a non-problem: Is it racist to call black thugs “thugs”? And what is a “thug” anyway?
History is a vast early-warning system, as Norman Cousins taught us. It gives us valuable insights into current events. Granted, history may not repeat itself exactly. But it helps us recognize the essential similarities between current problems and related problems in the past. In this way, we will be better able to find solutions.
Our word “thug” comes from the Sanskrit word for “thief.” (Recall the looted stores in Baltimore?) The Thugs were members of Thuggee, a network of criminal gangs that terrorized India from the 13th to the 19th centuries. The Thugs befriended travelers, then robbed them and strangled them with a scarf or cord. The bodies were hidden, often by throwing them down a well. This enriched the thugs but did little to improve water quality.
The Thugs were mainly Hindu and worshipped Kali, goddess of destruction. But apparently there were some Sikh and Muslim members, an early-day example of “diversity.” Their motivation was both religious and monetary. The Thugs were suppressed by the British in the 19th century, using both police and the military.
A fictionalized but instructive depiction of the Thugs is presented in the film “Gunga Din.” The climax of the story occurs when hostages are rescued and a band of Thugs is destroyed by the British army. When I saw that film as a child, I first developed my love for the sound of bagpipes. To this day, they represent for me the approach of rescuers intent on freeing hostages from a murderous cult − not a bad idea to implant in a child’s mind.
The Thugs were criminals who hid behind a religious facade. Religious or ideological facades remain common methods of justifying criminal behavior. If you doubt this, read any liberal newspaper from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times. You will see mantras that are untrue but seem true because they are repeated so often:
● “Poverty causes crime.” Really? Then why didn’t my uncles become criminals instead of storeowners? Why didn’t my father become a criminal instead of a physician? When my mother first met him, his things were wrapped in newspapers. That’s poor. Many of today’s poor have flat-screen TVs and air conditioning.
● “Racism causes crime.” Really? The mayor, police commissioner, state’s attorney, and school superintendent of Baltimore are black, as are a majority of the city council and 43% of the police department. Three of the six officers arrested in the death of Freddy Gray are black – are they racists, too?
Standard police methods, with some military help, were sufficient to rid India of the Thugs. The great majority of Indians were grateful to the British for doing so. But sleeping giants are avoided only if they show some signs of waking up. Otherwise they are merely objects of ridicule and contempt. Uncle Sam may be lapsing into the latter category.
At the very least, we should be able to call terrorism and thuggery by their correct names, and not hide behind mealy-mouthed doublespeak and cowardly cover-ups. Our president and other officials are reluctant even to say the word “terrorism.” The only risk we present to the Benghazi terrorists is that they may injure themselves while falling off their chairs laughing at us. Two and one-half years after the attack, we still have done nothing.
If we hope to deal with a problem successfully, we must define what it is. As a first step, we should try calling it by its correct name. Demonstrators march carrying placards and shouting slogans. They may block streets and inconvenience people, but they do not destroy significant parts of a city. On the other hand, rioters throw bricks through windows, loot stores, start fires, cut holes in fire hoses, and injure people. If that doesn’t satisfy the definition of “thug,” what would?
Is it racist to call black thugs “thugs”? No, it is racist not to call black thugs “thugs” – as if nothing better could be expected of them. The essence of racism is not applying the same standard to all groups.
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