And of Course Looters and Arsonists are Thugs

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Thugs can be white, black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Australian Aborigine (OK, I'll admit there are fewer of those), and of course the Indian Thugs (apparently as recently as the mid-1800s). They tend to likewise prey on people of all racial groups, though most commonly their own, especially when we deal with everyday thuggery. They are defined not by their skin color, but by what they do. Here I agree entirely with President Obama:

President Obama doesn't regret using the term "thug" in describing the violent rioters in Baltimore this week, spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

"Whether it's arson or, you know, the looting of a liquor store … those were thuggish acts," Earnest said.

In discussing the riots Tuesday, Obama assailed the "criminals and thugs who tore up the place," and described them as a distraction from the real issues of police brutality.

Some critics ascribe racial connotations to the word "thug" -- Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake walked back the term earlier this week -- but Obama doesn't agree, officials said.

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  1. If you google Russian Thug you get almost as many hits as you do for African American or Black Thug. The KGB and Putin have regularly been referred to as thugs. I believe the media started using the word thug, to avoid other words more racially identified, of course it wasn’t long before some activists started claiming it was racially motivated.

    1. The corporate media in this country has resorted to dog whistles to rouse the ignorant hicks of America. Of course, some pundits like Tucker Carlson, are openly promoting white nationalism on Faux News. The FCC needs to regulate corporate media so that hate speech can’t be proliferated!

    2. Isn’t it a Hindu word?

      1. Well, since Hindu is a religion rather than a language, no. It is, however, a HindI word.

  2. “Thug” is just another racist dog whistle used by the GOP to incite racial fears among ignorant Republican voters. Material goods can be replaced and stores can be rebuilt. A black mother, who’s son has been murdered by racist cops because he accidentally took possession of a 52″ television without payment, will never get to hug him again. #BlackLivesMatter

    1. I agree that #BlackLivesMatter . But “material goods can be replaced and stores can be rebuilt” is something that hits me very personally.

      You see my first legal job was representing victims of the 1992 LA civil unrest. And I can tell you those material goods weren’t replaced and stores rebuilt for a long time, as businesses fled the poor black areas of the city. (Koreatown got rebuilt, because the Korean immigrant community had access to capital that blacks didn’t.)

      Saying “destruction of property is just fine because the police did this thing that is worse” is just the worst kind of whataboutism. You CAN defend violent responses to injustice- heck, the mythology of this country is that it was founded on one- but in doing so you have to acknowledge that the costs are significant. Indeeed, you can very much argue that the 1992 civil unrest was a key factor in reforming the LAPD. But it came at a huge cost, and slogans like “those businesses can be replaced but you can never take back what happened to Rodney King” are incredibly insensitive to the people, many of whom were of low SES and black, who suffered enormously as a result of the unrest. You have to own those costs if you want to justify the violence.

      And always remember Bono’s injunction in “Rattle and Hum”. It’s SUPER-easy to cheer on violence if you aren’t there and it isn’t burning down or stealing or destroying YOUR stuff or threatening YOUR safety:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMFzYhCtZaY

      Only the people in these communities in Minneapolis get to say if this is worth the cost, because they are the ones who are going to pay it.

      1. Well said, Dylan.

        The people cheering on the rioting and looting don’t seem to be volunteering their own homes to be looted and burned.

      2. After seriously thinking about what you have posted, I must agree. Credit scores and corporate risk assessment tools are instruments of white supremacy, just like the SAT and other attempts to have standardized test scores. To end white supremacy, corporate lenders must blindly hand over cash to black owned business, regardless of any deficiency in business plans or lack of sufficient collateral assets.

        1. You’re not even trying to be a creative troll anymore. I assume this is a Jimmy the Dan troll
          account. Although … since others have accused Rev. Arthur Kirkland of running the Jimmy the Dane or actualrightwingpatriot (or whatever the name was) account to make conservatives look bad, it would be some Trump-level chess strategery if you are Kirkland playing Jimmy playing left-wing troll.

          1. I disagree, he’s a particularly good troll. His one tactic, though, is taking a typical reflexive moderate liberal’s position and taking it to an absurd conclusion if that path is maintained. Not that such opinions are particularly hard to find on Twitter or Alternet or anything, that said.

            1. I learned a lot from Reddit and Twitter but I usually browse 4chan. To be honest, my interest in politics started with Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. Politics isn’t about compromise or unity, it is about division. Drawing a line in the sand and saying anyone on the other side is not just an asshole, but a retarded asshole. Stewart’s ability to ridicule and lampoon Republicans is only outdone by Trump’s Twitters shitposts against the Democrats. Who doesn’t want to be on the winning team?

              1. *insert Futurama “not sure” meme as reply*

          2. It is always easier to criticize than to create. Do you have any tips?

            1. “Do you have any tips”?

              Sure. Take a high powered magnet. Rub it over your hard drive a few dozen times.

          3. My guess it’s Stewart Baker.

        2. Cops murder White people, too….

        3. This is a Parody Account, right?

          Just like OBL?

      3. You miss the other part about the Koreans, they were on rooftops with guns protecting their property, so it didn’t get (as) looted as other more colorful areas of LA.

        1. More reason to ban open carrying of assault weapons.

          1. Assault Rifles are short range weapons.
            For this, I’d want a bolt-action rifle with a scope.
            I don’t want to hit bystanders.

            1. I dunno.

              If it is a mob breaking into my store, spray and pray may be just the right effect.

      4. “And always remember Bono’s injunction”
        Really? D’ya mean the self-styled “Bono Vox”? The zillionaire tax-avoider who wears $1K+ women’s sunglasses?
        Have you ever read any Paul Theroux?
        (Note to E. Vololokh: ((he’s real easy to offend))–err, OK with you? Or is this a case where it’s a whole big web out there, so take yourself elsewhere?)

    2. If you keep hearing dog whistles, maybe you are a dog?

      Why do you assume that the word thug refers to black people? That seems racist of you.

      I am a brown skinned man who lived in New York State for a couple of years, and consider Andrew Cuomo to be a well-dressed thug who runs a thuggish government.

      There are thugs in every community and every walk of life.

      1. I consider myself an ally of people of color. I just want to help lower the bar so more minorities can succeed in our society, which has traditionally been extremely racist. Even better, we should eliminate the bar altogether for people of color. The University of California system has recently done away with the SAT. I think they need to go further and do away with GPA records for students of color. If an institution has determined that a person of color is legitimately qualified, with respect to ideological loyalty, then that student should be allowed to graduate with highest honors.

        1. re: “I consider myself an ally of people of color.”

          [T]here are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)

          1. “When the L-rd your G-d brings you to the land that you will inherit, many nations will fall away before you; the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Prizites, the Hivites and the Jebusites… And you shall not marry with them; do not give your daughters to his sons and do not take his daughters for your sons. For he will turn your son away from me and they will worship other gods….”

        2. It’s funny so many people of color imbibe in victimization narratives like complaining about applying the SAT to them as unfair…Oh, this just in, Twitter’s TOS are so totally unfair and the feds should rush in and address this!!!!

      2. “Why do you assume that the word thug refers to black people?”

        Could it be historical context?

        I mean, if someone said Obama must like fried chicken and watermelon would you say ‘why do you think that’s possibly racist, fried chicken and watermelon are totally yummy!’

        1. I am a brown skinned man and I think that fried chicken and watermelon are absolutely yummy!

          I live in the south and both those foods are quite popular with large numbers of people.

          I don’t know if Obama likes these foods, but if he does, I approve of his taste.

        2. I am a whitish- skinned man and I think that fried chicken and watermelon are absolutely yummy, as well.

          I think Obama prefers pineapple pizza and poi.

  3. I don’t see what is gained by saying that looters are thugs when you can just be more specific and call them looters.

    Also, I am not sure what is meant by thug. If it refers to those who use violence or have gang affiliations (as the definition in Merriam-Webster suggests), then the statement is true of a subset of looters, not all looters.

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/thug

    That being the case, it is sort of like saying that humans are thugs. Well, we know that all thugs are human, but not all humans are thugs.

    The category looter and thug, when defined this way, overlap to some degree, of course. But some looters aren’t thugs, and some thugs aren’t looters.

    Maybe a less precise definition of thug is meant, like denoting a person who commits a crime that you disapprove of or strongly disapprove of. But if that were the case, it would make sense to call drug addicts thugs, just so long as you greatly disapproved of drug addicts. And that just seems kind of weird.

    People who are looting Target in response to the death of George Floyd are, at least in most cases, clearly taking advantage.

    How does it make sense to say: “I am outraged by the death of George Floyd! Also, I could really use a free TV.”

    I would love to get in the mind of such people. I wonder about the thought process and the self-justification process.

    But to describe them as thugs… Again, why not just call them looters? It seems more precise.

    1. These are the synonyms from you link:

      bully, gangbanger, gangsta, gangster, goon, gorilla, hood, hoodlum, hooligan, mobster, mug, plug-ugly, punk, roughneck, rowdy, ruffian, tough, toughie (also toughy), yob [British], yobbo [British]

      While the usage of some of them has additional implications pretty much all of them indicate a willingness to use violence. Few have a racial connotation, except possibly gangbanger or gangsta, which is decidedly hip hop. Hooligan was originally associated with the Irish . Thugs of course were originally associated with Indian criminal gangs or thugee.

      What has happened is that people with political agendas have seized on these words to make a point. Much like those who have seized on the use of the Betsy Ross flag by white supremacists, when in fact the white supremacists actually used the symbol to associates themselves with American History. The Nazis did the same thing adopting the swastika.

      1. Maybe we should use the Israeli flag when we bulldoze the homes of brown people into the ground so we can build white settlements. Then no one can oppose us!

    2. “why not just call them looters?”

      What should we call the ones who don’t loot, just burn down buildings or torch police cars?

      1. Criminals.

        1. The correct term is ‘arsonists‘ as is looters and rioters under those conditions. But using the same term over and over makes for a boring narrative, so other descriptions are used: youths and protesters for when the presenter agrees with acs; thugs and rabble if not.

          1. acs -> acts

    3. Looters finna get dem respirations

    4. I don’t see what is gained…

      Never a more disingenuous phase has been uttered. If it were true, why would you bother posting? Why open your mouth (figuratively) and prove that you are ignorant, when your silence might leave us believing otherwise.

      You obviously think that use of the word was wrong or just like to rail on Trump (or both), so why not just say that and spare us your sophistry? Your criticism is not even valid in a pedantic sense. The words both denote individuals who engage in behavior that violates the rights of others and in that they are synonymous.

    5. Because the semantic content of “looter” is primarily denotative, and the content of “thug” is primarily connotative? Or at least “thug” is more connotative than “looter.” Using “thug” allows speaker to express a greater degree of disapproval than just “looter,” especially since many take a positive, or at least neutral view, of looting.

      1. On the other hand, if you’re an Objectivist, you probably use “looter” as a worse epithet than “thug.”

    6. But this element of the protesters – the “thugs” – is doing more than simply looting. They’re setting fires, intimidating people, calling for and causing violence. The people taking advantage of the anarchy to steal things are really not a major problem for me (again major). Nor are the majority of people out peacefully and fairly protesting.
      There’s clearly an element of agitators who are causing most of the damage, setting fires, burning buildings, inciting the crowds. It’s interesting and perhaps revealing that after one of these terrible incidents that it takes three or four days for the hardcore violence to emerge. I was a child during the riots of the 60s and they almost always occurred, as I recall, immediately after an incident, after a police shooting of a suspect, et cetera. For example, the evening of the King assassination – not days later – many cities were in flames. It was spontaneous and instant.
      These protests cum riots – the very violent component – seem to be planned out, there a deliberateness to them unlike previous protests.

  4. Here I agree entirely with President Obama:

    I see what you did there…

  5. “union thug” is probably the most common popular usage of thug. Were union enforcers usually black?

    1. Were coal miners unionized? A funny story – Coming from the shtetlekh of Eastern Europe, my grandfather thought that black people were just coal miners who didn’t bother washing themselves.

    2. Is or was?

    3. Union thug is just an earlier variation of the term promoted by greedy, bigoted, science-denying, pro-torture, etc. GOP right-wingers. Carry on, clingers!

    4. ““union thug” is probably the most common popular usage of thug.”

      Interesting, since the true culprits in all of this are, of course, public sector unions.

  6. Thugs, rampagers, and looters riot mainly for fun and profit.

  7. “Have a heart,” as they say to each other in the Temple of Doom.

  8. Wow… Why on earth would you pretend that Trump is not a racist?

    https://twitter.com/atrupar/status/1266358757749112833

    1. Protesting is not rioting or looting. Twitter user Atrupar, and you as well, apparently, can’t perform basic reasoning.

      1. Martinned Assumes that protesting automatically involves rioting and looting. I wonder why.

  9. Yep, agreed. Just like “deplorable”, “narcissist” “orange” and “sub-literate mouthbreather”.

  10. Liberals just spent weeks complaining about lockdown protesters carrying guns (legally) in what most would consider to be peaceful but contentious protests. We heard about how it was unamerican to be conduct your protest in such a manner and lots of other gnashing to teeth.

    What treatment do the Black Lives Matter arsons, riots, and looting get? You guessed it, MEDIA APOLOGISTS. “Of course they are justified…these people are frustrated….you don’t understand….”

    The double standard couldn’t be any more blatant if one were to design this to happen.

    1. One group was frustrated about decades of racist treatment by police that recently resulted in a murder.

      The other one was because people were mad about having to wear masks at Applebees next month so we don’t spread a disease that has already killed 100,000 people in the U.S.

      Oh and don’t pretend like being armed has nothing to do with trying to intimidate officials with an implicit threat of violence.

      1. You are absolutely correct! Martin Luther King Jr. would have been much more successful if he burned Selma to the ground and got himself a new pair of Air Jordans. Too many white men with micropenises carry big black guns in public places to frighten and intimidate regular citizens. This has to stop! We are better than this.

        1. And let’s not forget that legally carrying a gun is bad because following they were following the law.

          1. Legally carrying a gun is bad because it’s an endorsement of violence and an implicit threat of the same to achieve your goals.

            1. Agreed. The only time Republicans have supported sensible gun control legislation is when the Black Panthers carried guns in public. No one, except the police and military, should be allowed to own a weapon of war.

              1. You don’t know your history, the Dem’s in Alabama denied MLK’s concealed carry permit.

                1. What is the Southern Strategy? Yesterday’s Democrats are today’s Republicans.

                  1. The Southern Strategy was highly over-rated in terms of it’s actual success, like many theoretical strategies, it didn’t always work out in practice.

              2. It’s not hard to find articles at this site supporting gun rights for the Black Panthers. For instance, https://reason.com/2015/04/30/gun-rights-civil-rights/

            2. Both of those statements are false.

              1. How do you think the person is supposed to interpret the presence of a gun while someone is demanding they do something?

                1. With caution and circumspection.

                  1. Because of the implicit and obvious threat of violence

                    1. Have you been to a shooting range? Everyone is heavily armed but there is no implicit threat of violence.

                    2. Well no one at a gun range is demanding non armed policy makers cater to their demands.

                      And yes I have. I did it in Scouts (I actually have rifle shooting merit badge). And also in my younger days when I was less skeptical of the carceral state I interned at a USAO office and we went on a field trip to an ATF range.

                      My takeaway from the ATF was that guns are fun to shoot, but no one should own them.

                2. Well, if it’s an ordinary citizen talking to a government official, I expect part of the point of the gun is to remind the official of Lexington Green.

                  Duh.

      2. Nice way to both demonize and minimize the fact that many of those lockdown protesters own or work for small businesses that were closed and/or lost because of the unnecessary length of the onerous quarantine. Losing ones livelihood is pretty freaking hilarious and we ought to make fun of people who are mad about it.

        1. Well if I’m failing morally, I’m only taking a cue from you who has consistently stated it’s okay to be a bad person if the other side does it too!

          1. I merely point out that when one side plays by a certain set of rules they can hardly fault others by meeting them on the level.

      3. One group was frustrated that their civil rights were violated. You think that violation was unjustified.

        The other group is frustrated that their civil rights are being violated. You think that violation is justified.

        There is no principled difference between the two situations. You are defending one and attacking the other based only on your personal priorities and beliefs. It is your right to do so, just like it is CNN’s right to do so. Just don’t be surprised when others call you out as hypocrites.

        1. The wise man bowed his head and solemnly said: there’s no difference between good and bad things.

          1. Anyone who knows @dril can’t be all bad.

      4. No, the thugs were not motivated primarily because of police brutality but like all thugs, they saw it as an opportunity to do what thugs like to do: create mayhem and steal.

      5. You say that like it makes sense. There is no justification for indiscriminate extrajudicial violence, EVER. It doesn’t matter why someone is frustrated. The fact that you don’t care about that says a lot about you, and not good things.

        1. “There is no justification for indiscriminate extrajudicial violence, EVER”

          I agree. I also actually think there is rarely a justification for judicial violence either. What I don’t agree with is that the issues of racism and police brutality are morally equivalent to issues surrounding pandemic control. They can’t be lumped together as morally equal under the guise of a vague “civil rights violation.”

        2. Tell that to George Washington

          1. That was discriminate.

      6. “decades of racist treatment”

        Including, it seems, a racist prejudice by black cops against white Australians.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Justine_Damond

        …or maybe police abuse raises broader issues?

        1. Eddy, I confess to being a long-standing Austrophobe. It is a condition seen by others to involve irrational fear and hatred, directed at Austrians and Australians. I argue that it is based on experience, and justified.

      7. But burning a police station to the ground is an act of compassion…

  11. Another reminder that most who post and comment here are white, straight, and male.

    Must be nice to have a guaranteed job and live in an ivory tower.

    1. So white straight men can’t have an opinion? Isn’t that pretty darn racist and sexist.

    2. Thank you for posting this. As a non-binary, pedosexual Rabbi of color, I believe Reason needs more articles from minority writers.

    3. Just when I thought that the RabbiHarvey guy was going too far when trolling the libs with their silly opinions, along comes regexp, a long time commentator, who plays the part, for realz this time.

    4. As a brown skinned man who frequently posts you, I respectfully ask you to shut up and donate your salary to the people you claim to care about.

      1. How “brown” are we talking here? Southern Italian brown or Wesley Snipes brown?

        1. I am currently awaiting the results of my Victim Assessment Test. Based upon that, I should be able to tell almost all whiteys to shut up.

          /sarc

  12. Is it possible the President chose the term “thug” knowing it would set off his critics, whom he can then portray as being more outraged over word usage than over rioting?

    1. He could have used the media preferred term “youths” or “onlookers”….

      1. You forgot “teens.” (shout out to Dean Bouquet.) Dick Clark, Alan Freed, and Murray the K are rolling over in their respective graves. (OK Mr. Volokh? Or am U possibly “offin-tit?”)

        1. Super-predators?

    2. Quite possible. Trump is usually good at bringing out the worst in people… Especially his enemies.

      After four years, they still haven’t figured it out.

  13. https://www.npr.org/2015/04/30/403362626/the-racially-charged-meaning-behind-the-word-thug

    The interviewee – who I have some vague feeling in the back of my mind is a lefty but not quite batshit crazy – makes the points that words drift in meaning, and that the same word may be used differently in different milieux.

    But I think he effectively contradicts himself. The fact that different people may use a word in different ways, and the fact that the tide of meaning change if there is one, will not reach all points at the same time indicates that there is no canonical meaning for “thug” – still less any canonical connotation.

    Hence we get to rorschach it – we can paint the connotation on it that best suits our prejudices.

    1. I tried to post McWhorter pieces but my comment is still in moderation.

      I also depends on the context of use and what is known about the speaker. One of the events that really sparked this conversation about “thug” came when Richard Sherman was called that by tons of people after he went on a pretty animated rant about how he was the best cornerback ever after the 2014 NFC championship. He commented that that was becoming the new n word. That’s probably a stretch, but he was definitely onto something with the fact that people appeared to be using it to convey negative racial connotations. I also think Justin Bieber started some fights that week and despite his possibly even greater fame, no one went around calling him a thug.

      1. Maybe if Bieber had, like, muscles and tattoos, but then he wouldn’t be Justin Bieber, would he?

        1. He actually has a lot of both of those and has for some time.

          1. Well, I beg your pardon, I retract my mistaken comment.

  14. According to my late Uncle, Tokyo Rose was fond of routinely calling the US Marines in the Pacific and FDR; “Gangsters and Thugs”. The Marines, of course, took that as flattery. I’m guessing FDR did as well.

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