I have a pop quiz for you.
Can you name one young white victim of violence who has been publicly humiliated or degraded by tens of thousands of African Americans online or by key African-American journalists or newscasters?
I’m waiting. Still waiting. Stumped? I’ll give you a bonus question.
Can you name one white person, criminal or otherwise, that you’ve heard called a “thug” in the past, let’s say, 50 years?
Even if you came up with an obscure name or two, you have to admit that you’re dealing with a pretty short list.
Yet not only are African-American perpetrators of violence labeled as thugs, but so are victims.
Jeffrey Dahmer killed, raped, and dismembered at least 17 boys and men, but he was never called a thug. He was arrested.
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people when they blew up the federal building in Oklahoma, but they were never called thugs. Both men were arrested.
Jared Loughner, who had a history of drug abuse, shot and killed six people and injured 13 more, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, but he was never called a thug. He was arrested.
James Holmes shot and killed 13 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, but he was never called a thug. He was peacefully arrested.
In a sense, these five men, each notorious mass murderers, were given a level of respect and due process of the law rarely afforded to young black men like Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown, who were all victims of white violence.
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Throughout the pursuit of justice for all three of these slain young black men, great efforts were made to assassinate their character, devalue their humanity, and, in a sense, make it seem as if justice was an unnecessary luxury for them. The attempted thuggification of their names and reputation is despicable.
Tens of thousands of references can be found throughout social media—and even in the traditional media—making Mike Brown out to be a thug. For weeks, lawsuits were being waged to allege he had a criminal past until it was finally revealed that he had never been arrested a day in his life. Showing every photo he ever posed in on Instagram, every rap lyric he ever suggested he loved, dissecting every tweet he ever wrote, the conclusion that Mike Brown was a thug was pushed and pushed to promote the idea that Darren Wilson did a good thing. Donor after donor to Darren Wilson’s online fundraiser explicitly stated they were glad he did society a favor. When real evidence failed, fake pictures of Mike Brown were floated out to misrepresent him.
Much the same happened with Trayvon Martin. Walking home from a local convenience store with newly purchased snacks in hand, Trayvon was tracked and followed, in spite of the wishes of the police dispatch, and eventually confronted by an armed resident of the neighborhood. He was shot and killed in this confrontation. For a full year, every effort was made to make Trayvon out not to be a typical teenager with a bag of Skittles on his way home to watch the NBA All-Star weekend, but a violent thug who wanted to commit murder on his way home. Trayvon, like Mike Brown, had never been arrested a day in his life. Fake pictures of Trayvon, which were actually of the rapper The Game, nearly 20 years older than Trayvon, were floated out there to make him look like a thug. George Zimmerman, the man who was charged with killing Trayvon, but eventually found not guilty, had been arrested multiple times for violent crimes before killing Trayvon and has been cited for violence multiple times this past year alone. Still, wildly so, the general sentiment still isn’t that he’s a thug.
Oscar Grant, shot and killed by police while handcuffed in Oakland, actually had a criminal past that he fought hard to overcome. He was a diligent father and strived to hold down a local job after his incarceration. His being shot, while handcuffed and sitting on the ground, had absolutely nothing to do with his previous incarceration. The only reason it has ever been brought up, then, is to devalue his life and to dissuade supporters from feeling confident about championing his cause.
The thuggification of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and many other young black victims of gun violence very much feels like a modern attempt to three-fifths their value in the world while the refusal to ever ascribe the thug label to white perpetrators of violence suggests that the word is gaining an exclusive racial connotation limited to African Americans.
"Thug" is the new "n*****."