Wednesday, April 29, 2015

No Excuses: Angry Thugs and Looters are Still Thugs and Looters

I know you might hate this, but I'm going to do it anyway.  I'm going to write this as a mother, as a grandmother, as a card-carrying citizen of the United States, as a goddamned human being.

I'm white, but if you dare hold that against me you're no better than those who hold color against anyone.  We're going to talk about those stupid vandals who rampaged through their own Baltimore neighborhood the night before last, looting, burning, destroying nearly everything in sight.  They were black kids and they used the funeral of a young black man as an excuse to raise so much hell we'll be adding Baltimore once again to the list of the worst riots in the U.S.

So far, as of this writing, there have been no reported deaths--thank the light above for small favors.  But vicious, creepy thugs willfully savaged an entire neighborhood, and I submit the only thing poor Freddie Gray's funeral had to do with it was opportunity.  It was their big chance to blaze their way in, using righteous protest as a flimsy excuse to riot.

Rumor has it that they were mainly teenagers, that they used social media to get the word out, that a movie fueled their fervor for vengeance.  There are reports that the police themselves showed up at the school campus in riot gear and wouldn't let the kids get to their buses to go home.  They went to the neighborhood instead.

Some of the people who have lived through the cop-on-black violence in West Baltimore abhorred the rioting but tried to find ways to explain it beyond simple vandalism.  TaNehisi Coates knows the area and the police activities well.  He writes:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
 But it wasn't just the police and the politicians pleading for nonviolence.  Freddie Gray's family begged for it.  The preachers in the community prayed for it.  Neighborhood families hoped against hope for it.

If the thugs had stuck with setting police cars afire, with throwing bricks at police officers, I might have understood, but still not condoned, that kind of disrespect.  They see the police as the enemy. But they didn't stop there.  They didn't even start there.  Their intent was to riot.  To disrespect the community.

 For 48 hours, since the riot began, we've heard non-stop talk about the reasons why.  I won't go into all of them, except to say that the Baltimore police are known pigs who seem to thrive on punishing black people, and Freddie Gray, the young man who didn't deserve to die at their hands, did die at their hands.  Horribly.  They broke his spine, curled him up into a ball and stuffed him into their paddy wagon.  They ignored his need for immediate medical care. He died in their care and nobody but him has so far paid the price.

If I lived in that neighborhood and knew what I knew about the police and about this case and about the hundreds of other cases where justice was as cruelly denied, I would want someone's hide.  Not literally, of course, but I would want retribution.  I would want somebody to pay.  I would protest.  Loudly.  I would not shut up.  I would be just like the thousands of people in that neighborhood who finally have had enough and want something done now. But I, along with those thousands of others, would have respected Freddie Gray's grieving family enough to grant their wish for peaceful protest.

Freddie Gray's funeral sparked the riots, even though his parents and his twin sister begged for peace.  Begged for it.  Said it out loud many times:  "Please.  No violence.  Please."

But within hours of Freddie's funeral the mourners' remembrances of the slain young man took a back seat to the nightmarish witnessing of a full-blown incendiary riot.

The rioters (do not call them protesters) busted out windows and doors of small businesses, made off with the goods inside, and looted and vandalized a CVS drug store.  They commandeered a police car, severely injured the occupants, and set the car on fire. They rampaged through a liquor store and a check-cashing store. The CVS went up in flames. More cars burned. Then more buildings. Through the night, fires roared.

And--get this--when the fire truck arrived to put out the fires in this neighborhood where families live, one of the punks pulled out a knife and spiked the hose. Twice. The water meant to put out the fire spewed like a swell fountain into the air, far from its directed target.  I'm guessing the punks around him thought it was pretty cool, too.  Nobody--I mean nobody--said, "Uh, not the fire hoses, idiot."

Yesterday the community came together to clean up their streets.  Mothers, fathers, small children.  The elders.  They're trying to put their lives back together again. They're heartbroken.  They're ashamed.  They're angry.  They know how this will look.  NBC news correspondent Rehema Elllis reported that she saw women standing in front of the burned-out CVS store weeping--weeping--because they spent years trying to get a pharmacy to put down roots in their neighborhood. What are the odds that CVS--or any pharmacy--will build there again?

This is the harm that riots do.  Riots aren't protests. There is no good outcome from riots.  They're remembered into eternity as the crazed response to a bad situation, and when it happens in a black community it's the black community that has to answer for it.  The thugs, the vandals, the looters need to get that message.  Making excuses for their criminal behavior doesn't just let them off the hook, it gives them license to keep their destructive anger alive.

Toya Graham, the mother who whupped her son in front of the cameras yesterday to keep him from joining the looters showed us the way well-placed anger wins the day. Her raw desperation, hard as it is to watch, is about as heroic as it gets.
"'That's my only son and at the end of the day I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray'. . .
 'Graham says after she got her son home they both watched news coverage of the demonstrations and riots on television. As images of her reaction started to go viral, Graham says comments started appearing on her son's Facebook page, many in support of her.
'Friends and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn't be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug,' said Graham.  [She] hopes the incident will serve as a teachable moment for her son."

Thugs will be thugs and to hell with them.  They almost destroyed this community.  Almost.  But the beauty of it, if there is such a thing, is that the people who live there aren't about to let them.  If something positive finally gets done in the community of West Baltimore, don't thank the rioters, thank the people in the neighborhoods who, in spite of the destruction, choose to rise from the ashes and work to build anew.

Addendum 4/30/15.  Since I published this yesterday I'm getting all kinds of flak about the use of the word "thug".  Yes, I must be living in a cave because I had no idea that word was now seen as some sort of code word for "black".  "Thug" is a word that has been around for over a century and is used appropriately to describe troublemakers.  There has never been a hint of color attached to it that I know of, and it's not my intent--or the President's, I'm sure--to offend anybody but the looters.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland.  Featured on Crooks and Liars MBRU))


  1. "A riot is the language of the unheard." Martin Luther King, 1968

    Or is looking at root causes too difficult when it's so much easier to just clutch one's pearls and tut tut about "thugs"?

  2. What would you call them? Heroes?

    And about Martin Luther King:

    He understood the dynamics behind riots; he didn't condone, endorse or support them. He worked as hard as he could against them or any kind of violence. (And I don't wear pearls. I'm a Yooper, remember?)

  3. Given that the police apparently started the riot, I'm not sure just what to call the students. Provoked? Goaded? Fed up? According to one of the few media sources I trust (Mother Jones) the cops actually forced kids off school buses and shut down mass transit stops to prevent students from going home. How much damage would have been avoided if those school buses had been able to make their normal runs? So who's the thug? The provoker or the provoked?

  4. The Mother Jones link is in my article. I mention it. But what you seem to be missing is that the people looting and burning buildings were not protesting, they were looting and burning buildings. The looting and burning had nothing at all to do with their frustration at the police. What did they have against CVS? The Senior Citizens building? They were opportunists who saw their chance to take a whack at destruction for the sake of destroying. They're the ones I'm targeting in my piece. I'm not condoning police actions, nor am I ignoring the legitimate protesters. I'm calling those opportunists "thugs", because that's what they are.

  5. You read the Mother Jones piece and are still using a racially-charged term like thug? You need to get out of the UP more; language is changing. Thug has become the new N-word.

  6. The word "thug" has been around for at least a century and it has nothing to do with color. If it has become the new "N-word" that's not my doing or my intent. It's also not the President's intent, It's a useful word for troublemakers.

    You might not know it, Nancy, but I spent 3/4 of my life in and near Detroit. I lived a block away from where the Detroit riots took place. I was born in the U.P and I retired to the U.P but I do know inner cities.

  7. I don't remember thug being used to describe those rioting at Penn State, the Keene New Hampshire pumpkin fest riot, or any of the various riots after teams have won or lost sporting events. You might call all of them thugs if commenting on them but it does not appear that the media does the same.

  8. Language changes. Thug doesn't mean the same thing now it did a few years ago. It has become the favorite term employed by the folks who a few years ago wouldn't have hesitated to use words now considered totally unacceptable.When you use it, you put yourself in the awkward position as being on the same stylistic page as Sean Hannity. Given how many synonyms exist that would serve as well (vandal, hooligan, ruffian, criminal, lowlife, delinquents, goon, punk, troublemaker) it seems like it would be a simple matter to avoid using "thug."

  9. Union members have been called "thugs" for decades. You know how they deal with it? Like this:

  10. And this:

  11. Of course, the press does not bother to show ten thousand protestors who did NOT use violence or rioting. Violence is not the answer 9 1/ times out of ten; but when someone feels nothing they say or do is going to be honestly addressed, it sure seems like it IS the answer then.

    Pain like that seems only addressable with violence and destruction -- because the ones doing it already feel too depersonalized to care. And yes, I recall when the word "thug" meant anyone of any color. And also, when it meant a follower of the goddess, your use of a word should not be dependent on the lack of education of others

  12. Yes, it would have been a simple matter if I had been aware of it but I've been dealing with personal issues for a couple months now and I had no idea "thugs" was an issue. None. If I had I would have used a different word. But it's out there now and I don't really want to delete my entire post because of it. I added an addendum. That's how I'll leave it.

  13. I could understand violence and destruction if it was focused on those who were doing them wrong, but the whole point of my article is that these. . .people. . .raged against a community already hurting the same hurts. That. Is. Just. Stupid.

  14. Going to be tough for rioters, looters, and vandals to put a positive spin on their criminal activities.

  15. As one who has felt that coruscating fury that has to break something or blow up inside? I can say it is a pain induced madness. As to why their own community assets are destroyed -- consider that many of the people involved are hampered by poverty and cannot GET AT those responsible. They may have no transportation to go somewhere else to either protest OR destroy things.

    I, too, feel a frustration and intense sense of futility observing such behaviors. But pain makes people mad -- and not merely in the ill-tempered sense of the word.

  16. Ramona, thank you for having the guts to write what you did. Not many have, and it needs to be said.

    No amount of victimization constitutes a license to attack random people who have nothing to do with what caused your problem. That way lies chaos and a world where every innocent person is a target.

    Oh, and I think the fixation on the word "thug" in some of these comments is a way to change the subject and avoid addressing the substance of your post.

  17. Labrys, I know there's truth in what you say. Rioters have been destroying the property of innocents forever, I suppose. But there comes a time when we have to stop trying to explain it away and start trying to stop it from happening. The only way to do that is to denounce it as the criminal act it is, far removed from whatever frustrations started the acts of protest.

  18. Thank you, Infidel. This is minor compared to the crap I've been getting at Liberaland and other places! There's no such thing as honorable looting, and "thug" is an acceptable word for the people who burned and looted in that West Baltimore neighborhood. It doesn't have to be a code word for the N-word, but it will be if enough blacks take offense and keep it going. It'll be a dream come true for those folks who are itching to make it one.

  19. Ramona, THANK YOU for this. Thank you for adding some common sense to the discussion surrounding Baltimore.

    Police brutality is wrong, but rioting is also wrong. I wish more people realized that both of those statements can be true at the same time.

  20. It's a weird world when we celebrate looting. I will celebrate the courage of Marilyn Mosby, the state's attorney, for indicting all six of those police officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
    Thanks for your clear thoughts on the subject.

  21. I did not say I was explaining it away or excusing it. You said you didn't understand how it happened and I offered an answer. It is, frankly, a bit insulting that you think I was excusing it.


I welcome your input and want to keep this as open as possible, so I will watch for and delete comments that are spam, vicious or obscene. Trolls not welcome. We're all adults here.