“It’s just criminal behavior”

As a native of Maryland and someone who has enjoyed many days in the city of Baltimore, I feel I have a closer feel for the violence and idiocy on display there over the past few days than I have had to other violent protests like the one that took place in Ferguson, Missouri. Knowing the city provides a more real appreciation for what is happening, even if it makes no less sense. Rarely have I ever taken to this space to point out something on which Barack Obama and I agree, but in this instance we do. In a report on CNN Wednesday the president was quoted as saying that police officers and police departments need to be held accountable–and that is true. He said police departments need to build up trust in the communities they serve, and that it true, too. (I would add that it is equally true that we need to teach young people to respect those in law enforcement, not to fear or disrespect them). More importantly, though, President Obama said that the rioting in Baltimore is “counterproductive.” He went on to say, “The kind of violence, looting, destruction that we saw from a handful of individuals in Baltimore, there’s no excuse for that. That’s not a statement, that’s not politics, that’s not activism, it’s just criminal behavior.” Quite right.

What too few people seem to understand is that there is nothing even remotely synonymous about the riots, violence and destruction taking place in Baltimore and free speech or serious efforts to reform potentially dangerous practices in a police department. Breaking the law is no way to bring about reform within law enforcement. Destroying property accomplishes nothing, especially when it is the property of a business or private individual. Looting and robbing accomplishes nothing. Smashing police cars and attacking police officers accomplishes nothing. All this behavior does is demonstrate a stupidity on the part of the rioters. If these individuals are so easily whipped into a frenzy that they will shatter windows, run out of a store with stolen merchandise, light fires, throw rocks and more, these are individuals who have zero sense of self control or discipline. They behavior demonstrates exactly why law and order is needed. There are enough cameras going off in Baltimore these days–whether security cameras, cell phone cameras or honest-to-goodness cameras in the hands of both journalists and private citizens–that dozens of offenders should be able to be identified. Every one of them should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This kind of behavior is ” counterproductive…it hurts communities that are already suffering,” Obama said.

Sadly, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake served only to add fuel to the fire. She originally stated that those who wanted to destroy should be given space to do so, according to various reports. Fox News reports that a law enforcement source has informed them that Rawlings-Blake gave a stand-down order early on in the rioting. If that is true, she should be impeached at the earliest possible opportunity for violating her oath of office and acting counter to the responsibilities she holds as the mayor of the city. Oddly enough, she then called the rioters “thugs” in later statements…but has since backed down from that and apologized for using the term. On Tuesday she recanted that statement and said, “We don’t have thugs in Baltimore. We have a lot of kids that are acting out, a lot of people in our community that are acting out.” While that is true–people are acting out–the term “thug” fits. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster both define thug as “ruffians”–and ruffians are bullies or brutal persons. People who start smashing windows, lighting fires and throwing rocks are absolutely bullies and ruffians.

Interestingly, multiple news sites are reporting that “thug” is the new “N-word.” That is ridiculous; groups cannot hijack the English language because they are offended by a word. If a word is an accurate descriptor of a person, a people group or behavior, we cannot allow that group to stand up and say “you cannot call me that, it is offensive.” How absurd is it that the same people who are smashing, lighting, throwing and screaming are also whining about the word being applied to their behavior? How stupid is it that people who are breaking the law are complaining about the label being put on their actions? We would laugh in derision if someone convicted of robbery were referred to as a “thief” and complained about it. There are many–of various racial backgrounds–who celebrate and promote the “thug” image in rap and hip-hop music. They have no ground to stand on when the word they are glorifying in their words and play acting is applied accurately to real behavior.

The comments of the mayor of Baltimore, the behavior of the thugs in the streets and the objections of those feigning offense at the word “thug” are not the only examples of stupidity on display in this mess, unfortunately. The dean of the University of the District of Columbia Law School, Shelley Broderick, apparently felt compelled to get her foolishness into the mix, too. She has informed the students at the law school that they can defer their exams if they go to Baltimore to work with those involved in the rioting because it will be good training for their futures and because it is essential to provide legal assistance to those involved in the “police accountability movement.” I am not making that up, either–that was her term for the rioting, thuggery and lawlessness on display in Baltimore. It is difficult to imagine how we will be able to move past the uncivilized and barbaric behavior that seems to be the initial reactions of those set on fanning the flames of racial unrest in the United States when those who are entrusted with training the next generation of lawyers are referring to criminal behavior as a “police accountability movement.”

I should point out that for each of the incredible examples of lunacy described above there are many other people demonstrating cooler heads, common sense and an appropriate grasp of reality. These are the people who need to be heard, who need to be followed and who need to be encouraged. If there was any police brutality or inappropriate treatment of Freddie Gray then that needs to be investigated and dealt with; those responsible, if anything happened that should not have, need to be held accountable. Sadly, dealing with that will have to be put in the back burner while the chaos in Baltimore is quelled and cleaned up. Stupidity itself is not a crime in the United States, for which we should all be grateful, but when that stupidity results in behavior that is actually criminal, we need to call it what it is and treat it accordingly.