Black Protesters Aren’t Thugs—They’re Patriots

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Racist Nonsense

Black Protesters Aren’t Thugs—They’re Patriots

Imani Gandy

To certain people in this country, it seems that any gathering of Black people is comprised of thugs. A barbecue? A bunch of thugs eating ribs. A church picnic? Just a bunch of thugs in fancy hats. A hip-hop show? A bunch of thugs listening to a bunch of other thugs.

Republican Maryland Del. Patrick McDonough (R-Baltimore County) guest-hosted a Baltimore talk radio show on Wednesday and blew his dog whistle so loudly that the damn thing magically transformed into a dog horn.

Lee Fang at The Intercept posted audio of McDonough’s comments, and I wish I could say that the remarks are shocking, but they aren’t. They’re actually rather typical for Republicans. The shocking bit is that McDonough felt so comfortable letting his racist freak flag fly on the public airwaves.

In response to a caller who suggested that public assistance be stripped from the parents of young protesters, McDonough said, “That’s an idea and that could be legislation. I think if you could make the case that there is a failure to do proper parenting and allowing this stuff to happen, is there an opportunity for a month to take away your food stamps?”

Yes, you read that correctly. He thinks that the constitutional freedoms of speech, association, and assembly should be impetus for stripping public assistance from those who need it. (So much so that he actually sponsored a bill in 2012. His proposed law would have banned people convicted of “common law rioting” in Maryland or any other state from collecting various forms of public assistance, which would have permitted the cops to arrest Black people with impunity, charge them, and then if convicted, strip them of government benefits.)

McDonough also called for a “scientific study” on “police relationships with the Black community.” According to McDonough, there just hasn’t been any research done by “brilliant, honest, objective people” (i.e., white people and probably conservative) on “this community, this culture, this thug nation.” He also said that he doesn’t want to put Black people “in a test tube or a cage,” probably because it’s literally impossible to fit a person, Black or otherwise, into a test tube. As for putting Black people in cages, well, our nation has been there, done that. Right, Pat?

He went on to say, “[t]hese young people, they’re violent, they’re brutal, their mindset is dysfunctional to a point of being dangerous.”

McDonough views the protests as the result of some mental deficiency—a thug mentality that pervades the Black community—because to actually consider the circumstances that have compelled Black people to take to the streets in protest would require some critical thought about the ways in which Baltimore police have failed Black people.

The Baltimore police have ruled Baltimore with such brutality that the Baltimore Sun called it “a frightful human toll.”

Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones—jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles—head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims—if charges were filed at all.

Decades of poverty and mistreatment of people at the hands of police like Freddie Gray sparked the Baltimore uprising, not some inherent cultural deficiency.

But McDonough, like so many Republicans who like to complain about the culture deficiencies in Black communities, doesn’t see it that way.

“I know we know about the families being dysfunctional, the drugs in the community, but it has now been generation after generation of this community, this culture, this thug nation,” McDonough said as he wistfully lamented that there hasn’t yet been a text published called “Thug Nation,” and that he has yet to “read anything in depth that explains this mindset.”

McDonough might as well have just said, “What’s up with all these niggers acting all niggerish?”

This is not an uncommon interpretation. When CNN’s Erin Burnett asked Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes to comment on the mayor of Baltimore and President Obama’s use of the word “thug,” Stokes said, “These are children who have been set aside, marginalized, who have not been engaged by us. No, we don’t have to call them thugs. … Just call them niggers.

Because that’s what the term “thug” means in this context. As Richard Sherman put it, when he was called “thug” after his now infamous interview with Erin Andrews, “The reason [being called “thug”] bothers me is because it seems like it’s an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now. It’s like everybody else said the N-word and then they say ‘thug’ and that’s fine.”

“Thug” is not just reserved for people who are violent criminals (which is the actual definition of the term, by the way). It has become a catch-all for Black people who don’t act in a way that is acceptable to white people, especially white people like McDonough who are unwilling to critically examine the structural racism, poverty, police brutality, and lack of opportunity that have led to the Baltimore uprising in the first place.

It’s not just the people who burned down the CVS at the corner of West North and Pennsylvania Avenues who are being referred to as “thugs.” Peaceful protesters are being lumped into the “thug” category too. And the media is at best careless when it uses that term to describe protesters, and at worst, complicit.

Right before Erin Burnett asked Councilman Stokes why “thug” isn’t an appropriate word, she said, “President Obama also called the protesters in his words today quote-unquote thugs.”

As much as I disagree with President Obama using that language to describe the looters, he certainly did not refer to protesters as thugs, but merely a subset of them—those who were actually committing crimes.

But to the media, it seems that any gathering of Black people is comprised of thugs. A barbecue? A bunch of thugs eating ribs. A church picnic? Just a bunch of thugs in fancy hats. A hip-hop show? A bunch of thugs listening to a bunch of other thugs.

And the term is set aside exclusively for Black people. Certainly, politicians and the media don’t refer to white people as “thugs” when they riot for important reasons like losing a sports game, winning a sports game, or just because there’s a pumpkin festival and it seems like a good idea. I may not condone setting cars on fire to protest police brutality, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than doing so because your team didn’t make it to the Final Four.

And everybody knows that the white folks who dumped all that tea in the Boston harbor back in 1773 weren’t thugs. They were patriots.

Well the Black protesters in Baltimore are patriots, too. They are protesting conditions every bit as unjust, if not more so.

Black people aren’t taking to the streets because they enjoy being tear-gassed and assaulted by police or because of some thug mentality. They are taking to the streets to protest the conditions to which this country has consigned them.

And they are also taking to the streets demanding one thing: Stop killing us.

Ultimately, however, that doesn’t matter to people like McDonough. He doesn’t want to conduct a scientific study on the relationship between the Black community and the police because he wants to help. Rather, he wants to rationalize continued neglect. He wants a 21st-century Daniel Moynihan to write a report and give him a reason to write off large swaths of the Black community as unsalvageable. After all, if Black people are inherently prone to dysfunctional families, unemployment, and violence, then why should the good, hardworking taxpayers give them a hand?

If Black women—because let’s not forget that it’s primarily single mothers who are the beneficiaries of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits—are failing as parents by letting their kids participate in one of the purest forms of democracy, then why should they be permitted to continue to collect food benefits?

Well, I have a reason: Because cutting off people’s public assistance is a surefire way to keep them protesting in the streets.

Starving an already starving community is not the best idea.

Just ask Marie Antoinette.