A Brief History of the Word ‘Thug’

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tags: Baltimore, Thug



Max Kutner is a journalist from Long Island, New York and focuses on general interest stories. Among other topics, he's covered crime, mental health and higher education. 

After the funeral of Freddie Gray ignited protests in the streets of Baltimore, several elected officials used a word to describe those people who were setting fire to buildings, stealing from stores and smashing car windows and taillights: “thugs.” 

Though many activists engaged in peaceful protests, looting and rioting gripped the Maryland city of 620,000 for much of Monday and Tuesday, prompting officials to declare a weeklong curfew and call in the National Guard. People took to the streets after the funeral for Gray, a 25-year-old African-American who was arrested on April 12, immediately entered a coma and died a week later, on April 19. An attorney for Gray’s family told reporters his death was due to spinal injuries, perhaps suffered during police transport.

During a press conference Monday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake referred to rioters as “thugs, who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.” A post on her Twitter account said, “Too many people have invested in building up this city to allow thugs to tear it down.” Rawlings-Blake is black.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who is white, also used the term Monday, calling demonstrators “lawless gangs of thugs roaming the streets, causing damage to property and injuring innocent people.” On Tuesday, President Barack Obama addressed the riots at a press conference, decrying “a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.”

Right away, the word choice angered many people in the black community. Musician Questlove of the Roots likened thug to a racial slur, as did Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes in an appearance on CNN. ...




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