Dunn and Zimmerman: ‘Thug’ the New N Word?


Recently, Florida has had no shortage of race-related murder trials. The biggest one in past months is, of course, Trayvon Martin’s case, wherein George Zimmerman approached, then shot Martin dead for no reason other than that he was wearing a hoodie and looked “dangerous.” The story that has been flooding news feeds in the past few days is Jordan Davis’s murder, wherein Michael Dunn approached, then shot Davis dead for no reason other than that he was listening to loud hip hop music. Neither of the shooters was convicted of murder. Zimmerman and Dunn both described their innocent, black teenage victims as “thugs,” which has left some wondering if “thug” is becoming the new N word.

During the Trayvon Martin case, George Zimmerman and his representation used the fact that Martin was dressed in baggy clothes and had the hood of his sweatshirt up in order to classify him as a “thug.” In doing so, the focus was  turned away from what Zimmerman did and onto what undoubtedly criminal acts the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, in all his thuggish garb, could have been up to as he was walking home from the convenience store that night.

And now, in the case of Michael Dunn’s shooting of Jordan Davis, the music that Davis was listening to with his friends while parked in an SUV was described by Dunn as “thug music,” which was then generalized to paint the teenage victim of a murder as a “thug.” Using the word “thug” removes the humanity from these young, innocent black boys and allows for racist, gun-toting  older men to wantonly murder whomever they feel like without consequence, and portray it as “self-defense.”

Within this context, it is possible the Dunn and Zimmerman cases have created a social and political climate wherein “thug” is a new dehumanizing racial slur for black people akin to the N word. Even when Zimmerman was advised to wait and allow the police to take control of the situation when they arrived on the scene, calling Trayvon Martin a “thug” helped to paint the vigilante murder of a minor as an act of self-defense. Even when Dunn opened fire and shot 10 bullets into a vehicle full of teenagers who were doing nothing but listening to music, the word “thug” helped to make it difficult for the jury to decide whether a murder conviction for the murder of Davis was appropriate when three bullets pierced his body.

Under no circumstances should these men have avoided a murder conviction for taking a life. Yet, they have managed to do just that. What is worse, Zimmerman has been thrust into the realm of pseudo-celebrity because of the media attention surrounding his trial. It should not have been a question of what the victims did to deserve being killed, but rather, the fact that they did not walk away from the altercations should have been enough evidence.

For many people, the decision of the juries in both of these high-profile cases is a travesty. The parents of Trayvon Martin and Jason Davis, as well as countless other victims whose cases have not received the amount of publicity that these two have, will have to live with the fact that their children were murdered and the justice system did nothing. How many more innocent black people will be murdered simply because some entitled man with a gun like Dunn or Zimmerman is determined to rid the world of–to use the word that is quickly becoming a replacement for the N word–“thugs”?

By Robin Syrenne





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