Another week, another city, another black man dead in the custody of police. What was different about this one? The city has high unemployment, bad schools, racially segregated neighborhoods, lots of crime and poverty and not much love between police and policed. Could have been Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Philadelphia, Newark or New Orleans, but this time it's Baltimore. Could have involved choking, beating or shooting, but this time the man died of a fractured spine after being handcuffed, shackled, placed otherwise unsecured in the back of a van and driven around for, say, half an hour. And this time the city kind of lost it, with a few hundred people out of thousands looting and burning and throwing rocks at heavily armed cops and National Guards.
It made for great television. Everyone had an opinion and was willing to share, and some of them had actually spent time in the city. Somehow the late Freddie Gray got lost in the side-stories about baseball and series TV. What if they gave an Orioles game and nobody came? It's never happened in the history of baseball! How does this resemble Homicide: Life On the Street? Or The Wire? What would Edgar Allan Poe say? Well, what about Barack Obama? He knows about that black stuff, doesn't he? He called the looters what?
It seems the word "thug" has gotten away from us and is now a synonym for...for that other word we have to hint at, like parents who don't want a toddler to know he's going to the d-o-c-t-o-r. It is now racially charged, possibly because Fox "News" and other racist megaphones have applied it to every black male, especially the freshly killed ones, since at least Trayvon Martin. This is how language changes, through general usage and not through dictionaries. To be blunt, "thug" is the new "nigger." It's already been applied to the President himself, though the only time I saw him with a gun was that unfortunate skeet-shooting photo-op. I'd suggest he stick with golf, but in the hands of a "thug" even a driver is a weapon, right?
Nobody has used the t-word to describe James Holmes, currently on trial for shooting up a Colorado movie theatre. Nobody has attached it to Dzokar Tsarnaev, even as the people of Boston debate what kind of box to put him in. Certainly nobody would attach it to Cliven Bundy and his heavily-armed freedom fighters, who drew their weapons on federal officers and weren't even arrested by the tyrant Obama. Well, I would, but I don't care about incurring the wrath of SpongeSean Squareface, who is free to call me a thug if he feels like it. He has the instincts of a thug, too.
Are words important? I think we all agree that "violence" is bad, but the hottest story of the day involves a woman being applauded for using violence on her young son. It looks like "violence" will be the next word to be re-defined. Baltimore=bad violence. Fallujah=good violence. Second Amendment=good violence. Video games=bad violence. So much to talk about, with the words we have left.