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OP-ED: Thugs do exist, and we need responsible individuals to police them


A thug by any other name, like a rose, is still a thug. Thugs come in all hues — white, brown, black and in between. They even come in police uniforms. Thugs can be found everywhere.

The origin of the word "thug" derives from a murderous cult of religious assassins in India during British colonial days who went around strangling their political enemies and anyone else who stood in their way. They worshiped Kali, a god of destruction, hence the term thug applies to any cutthroat or ruffian. And that is an exact description of those who used Freddie Gray's death as an excuse for mayhem. There can be no concern about political correctness or attempted justification based on a history of deprivation of civil rights. These people were even disavowed by the responsible generation of their own community.

Calling someone a thug then is not a racial epithet no matter what the African-American mayor of Baltimore might think after she apologized for initially using the term to describe those who burned, looted and generally trashed her city. She was right in the first place despite pangs to her conscience that had a distinct political coloration. Reportedly she is considered less culturally black by a number of her constituents who took immediate exception to her label of the rioters who seemed less concerned about the unjust death in police custody of one of their own than they were in robbing and burning stores in their neighborhoods.

She was wrong when her mea culpa to the black community included a contention that Baltimore was a city devoid of thugs made apparently on advice of her handlers. In fact, the victims of these thugs were also black and the six police officers who fit the classic definition of thuggish behavior in their actions were equally divided racially, white and black.

Interestingly, the resulting charges launched against the six officers, five males and one woman, who participated in the highly questionable arrest and further action that took Gray's life were from another African American official: first-term state's attorney Marilyn Mosby.

She not only understood what had taken place but made it clear that Baltimore's epidemic of intolerable police behavior to those in the inner city was about to end. The city has paid out millions of dollars to the victims of such action by cops.

Her swift response which ranged from illegal assault to second-degree murder allegations puts her high up on the list of courageous prosecutors, not to mention future political consideration.

From Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore, the incidences of unjustified force by police has not only shocked us but made us desperately aware of a need for better screening, training, and compensation for those who enforce our laws and provide our security. Something has been terribly overlooked in the criminal justice system. Better pay for a difficult, often-life threatening task might help bring to the job a better qualified individual who understands his or her obligations to those they serve no matter their station in life.

There are, of course, tens of thousands of law officers who do understand. Many face every day that dreaded time when something goes wrong and lives are threatened but stand steadfast in their determination not to act unfairly, even if it might be to their own detriment.

I am reminded of a young federal agent who one noon along with two of his companions faced a showdown with a trio of Los Angeles gang bangers who were gun traffickers. Only a few yards apart, the bullets began to fly, wounding one agent and at least one of the thugs. In his shooting stance, the young agent hesitated because down the street he saw a young boy riding a big wheel in the direct line of fire. His hesitation could have cost his life, but fortunately the youngster had cleared the danger zone quickly and the young agent survived to save his wounded partner and ultimately to receive a medal of valor.

There are thousands more of these responsible young men and women in our law enforcement establishment than those who, as Mosby said, put themselves "above the law." But don't misunderstand. Thugs come in all dimensions and stopping them is a never ending task ... even in Baltimore.

— Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.