The White House is standing by President Barack Obama’s decision to call those who looted stores and torched vehicles in Baltimore, “thugs,” despite some charges that the word is racially tinged.
Obama in a Rose Garden press conference on Tuesday decried the violence and injuries to Baltimore police officers, saying it was the work of “criminals and thugs.” He didn’t use the word in a Steve Harvey radio interview taped later, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that didn’t mean Obama was backing away from the characterization.
“I don't think the president would in any way revise the remarks,” Earnest said. “Whether it's arson or, you know, the looting of a liquor store, those were thuggish acts.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake used the same word earlier in the week, but apologized Wednesday on Twitter, saying “when you speak out of frustration and anger, one can say things in a way that you don't mean.”
She added, “that night we saw misguided young people who need to be held accountable, but who also need support. And my comments then didn't convey that.”
Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes told CNN that the rioters were “our children” who needed to be listened to, and suggested that instead of calling the protesters "thugs," she might as well have used a racial swear.
Earnest declined to say whether he considered it a loaded word, saying “I'll let you guys sort of decide how those words get interpreted.”
But he said Obama was clear that the majority of people protesting the death of a young African-American man who died a week after an encounter with police “were doing so in a responsible way that merits the attention of the American public and our elected officials.”
He added, “at the same time, we saw a small minority of individuals engaged in other activity that was not responsible, that is clearly a crime. And when you're looting up a convenience store or you're throwing a cinder block at a police officer, you're engaging in thuggish behavior and that's why the president used that word.”
Newsweek writes that “etymology experts have traced the word to the Hindi word meaning a cheat or a swindler.” But And it notes that Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said at a January 2014 press conference that use of the word bothered him because “it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N word nowadays.”