Leading Black Democrats Reject President Obama’s Conclusion that “Thugs” Were Behind the Chaos in Baltimore

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.

Leading black Democrats are rejecting President Obama’s conclusion that “thugs” were behind the furor in Baltimore that followed last month’s death of a black man in the custody of city police. 

Obama has characterized the rioters as “criminals and thugs who tore up” the city in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, which Maryland officials on Friday deemed a homicide committed by six police officers now facing murder charges.

But leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are denouncing the president’s language, arguing that a vast majority of the protesters — even those who resorted to violence — were simply kids swept away in the emotions of the moment. Obama, they say, overstepped in employing a term that, in recent years, has taken on sensitive racial dimensions.

“These are children, high-school students, you know, and I would not want to classify them as thugs,” said CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). “Certainly they are lawbreakers, but they’re still children. … These are youth, these are teenagers who are misguided, who don’t have the same maturity that adults have, and I would not venture to call them thugs.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) agreed, arguing that Obama simply used too broad a brush in attributing the violence to thugs.

“I would call them felons for breaking into an institution that they had no right or business to break into. I would call them criminals for the very same thing — burning cars and what have you. But a kid that just got out of high school at 3 o’clock in the afternoon in Baltimore and got caught up … and he’s throwing a rock [and has] no criminal record and everything — he’s not a thug, OK?” said Hastings, another senior CBC member.

“Were there thugs out there? Damn right. But would you then attribute that to everybody in the crowd? No. And for that reason you should not say it,” Hastings added. “I would caution that any leader, including the president of the United States, that is going to comment about these kinds of things to remind the public of all of our responsibilities wait until we have all the facts.”

Fox News reporter Leland Vittert, speaking on that network’s “Hannity” show Thursday night, said he had asked Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to suggest an appropriate term for the people involved in the disorder. By Vittert’s account, Cummings responded, “Human beings.”

Gray, 25, was arrested by Baltimore police on April 12 after a chase through the streets of the city, and suffered severe spinal and head injuries in a police van on the ride to the station. He died of those injuries on April 19, and Baltimore’s top prosecutor on Friday charged six arresting officers with murder and other charges.

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Source: The Hill | Mike Lillis

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