When I help out with permit classes, one of the things that makes me cringe is when the legal lecture devolves into a “Can I shoot if…” brainstorming session. “Well let’s suppose [fill in the blank]… In that case can I shoot? Okay but then what if [fill in the blank]… Can I shoot now?” Once the students start down that road, I promptly reach my wit’s end. Typically I end up having to throw up my arms, tame the turbulence, and after a moment of silence politely ask: “Did y’all know there is a word for what you’re doing right now? Yep. It’s called premeditation.”
We do NOT want to line our pockets with prefabricated lists of “Times When I Can Shoot.” But we do want to be proactive about how to not end up in stupid places doing stupid things with stupid people at stupid times. And of course, the definition of “stupid” will vary from person to person. In my opinion, that’s okay (within reason). For example, you might think it’s stupid to go to Whitehaven after dark. Since I grew up in Whitehaven (affectionately known by the locals as “Blackhaven”), I might not find that to be so stupid. Either way, I think it’s good to consider these sorts of things in advance.
Another word that is often subjectively defined is thug. In my experience, few words have sparked more spirited debate at black dinner tables than this one. And according to Google, its usage has sharply risen in recent years.
But what does thug actually mean? Ever thought about it? What is a thug? What picture pops in your mind when you think about that word? Here’s an overview of some of the theories I found in a quick search:
- Derived from the Hindi word for thief. A group of people who travelled across India from the 1300s to the 1800s. They have been described as everything from a nomadic religious cult to “an organized gang of assassins.” (Wikipedia)
- Violent criminal; gangster; brutal ruffian or assassin (Merriam-Webster)
- A tough and violent man, especially a criminal (World English Dictionary)
- A cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer (Dictionary.com)
- The word thug is “an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now…. It’s like everybody else said the N-word and then they say ‘thug’ and that’s fine…. What’s the definition of a thug? Really? Can a guy on a football field just talking to people [be a thug?]…. There was a hockey game where they didn’t even play hockey! They just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and said, ‘Ah, man, I’m the thug? What’s going on here?’ So I’m really disappointed in being called a thug.” (Richard Sherman)
- The jackbooted variety would be those Clinton-era federal agents with the “power to take away our Constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us” (Wayne LaPierre) … but not all federal agents, just some of them…
Pop Culture (Revisionist?)…
- A thug is “someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them. That person is a thug. [A]nd the life they are living is the thug life. A thug is NOT a gangster.” (Urban Dictionary, see also Tupac Shakur)
And of course we’ve all heard the term used in reference to Nazis and other oppressive regimes, “enforcers” in organized crime, and a dozen or more other contexts.
Several of my trainers often use a familiar mantra for teaching situational awareness: “If he looks like a thug, treat him like a thug.” I agree with that, broadly speaking. But as trainers, we do want to be careful about relying on convenient labels like “thug,” because it might mean different things to different students (as shown above). I think the word “thug” is often just used a verbal short cut — an abbreviated placeholder for all the meticulous details that CCW permit-holders must be able to articulate clearly if ever they are called upon to justify their escalation from yellow, to orange, to red. But if the stuff hits the fan, our students will have to do better than saying “he was a thug.”
Of course, if someone sticks a gun in your face or presses a knife to your throat, it’s really easy to explain why you reasonably feared for your life. But if you’ve reached that point, chances are you likely made several smaller mistakes over the previous twenty minutes or more. That’s really the period of time I’m referring to here: the pre-oh-sh*t phase.
I often hear people recount experiences where they avoided others because “there was just something about him” or “he just didn’t sit well with me.” We all have a right (and I would argue a responsibility) to trust those hairs on the back of our neck, no matter how politically incorrect they may seem. But sooner or later we might have to translate that feeling to words. We (and our students) should be prepared to do so effectively.
I often practice with people I encounter in the course of any given day. If I’m inclined to cross over and walk on the opposite side of the street, in my head I find the words to verbalize what drove me to that resort. I’m not second-guessing my decision; I’m just taking advantage of an opportunity to better prepare for that dreaded eventuality where I’ve got to explain myself to someone else. Life itself is a better practice arena than the fanciful world of hypotheticals, IMHO. When you get that uneasy feeling in real life, are you always able to articulate why? Can you do so in an objective way that would quiet your cacophonous critics? Are you sure?
16 comments on “Definition of a Thug”
When I attended my first concealed carry course, I was mystified by the line of questioning on the “Can I shoot if” topic. Many of the participants had no experience whatsoever with firearms and I felt that they didn’t fully grasp the immense responsibility that carrying a weapon brings with it. After the qualifying session, I vowed to avoid being in the same zip code with some of them. By the way, I grew up in Whitehave myself and go there every day. Orange Mound however, I avoid like the plague.
Cool! Small world! Orange Mound has redeemable pockets. Sadly they’re all nestled in the heart of the war zone.
Perhaps the word thug has come to be associated with black people because the behavior associated with the word is usually associated with black people. Chicken or egg? Islamic militants are thugs as are skinheads and other violent gangbanger and anarchists. As for deadly force, I am an older male who went through a period of extreme illness resulting in multiple major surgeries and I will never completely recover. A life threatening confrontation to me might be completely different than one for a fit healthy 30 year old. One would do well to heed the verbal warning of an old man…
Hi, Carl. Thanks for the comment, and welcome to the table! Glad you’re on the mend… And here’s to wishing you a speedy and full recovery.
Back from a fine day; wifey an hour in her fave tarjhey and me in the car with the Sunday paper, a nice filet and margarita at longhorn, and a stroll down the avenue of Town Center; a pleasant faux downtown of shops, eateries, fountains, and right at the end the big stadium-seating IMAX theater. Didn’t see the movie though. We rarely go, but I was intrigued by the amazing production efforts and methods of “Boyhood”, but contrary to what I’d been told, it’s not playing there yet…that’ll teach me to check for myself, and I will make a point of letting you know when I do see it.
Still, as I said a fine day as it always is with my girl; MWC since 17 and we’re 60 this summer, I wouldn’t know how better to spend a Sunday afternoon. So we took the back way for the hour trip home, stopped for Rita’s Italian Ice & Gelato, and meandered through the pastures and sod fields of south-central fla back to Sebring, with 60′s on 6 cranked up more than old folks should.
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, thugs, whatever they may be. Depends on who you ask I guess; Webster is pretty harsh… “a violent, brutal person who is often a member of an organized gang, derived from the Sanskrit for thief”. 2Pac? Much gentler, evoking a sympathetic understanding…though apparently he tried to live up to Webster in his final moment. So like most labels -and most else I think- it goes to intent. It’s an epithet if flung at someone, but more of a badge of inclusion when used by one’s peers or homies.
So for purposes of situational awareness it’s useless; the functional term is the un-PC but very descriptive and very advisable “profiling”, as every time you avoid Whitehall or cross the street or lock your doors -or observe and follow someone in your neighborhood-…that’s what you’re doing. And it’s a good thing, a conflict-avoidance thing, hell, even a life-saving thing. But it gets a bad rap, as it were, because it’s often used by the popo to catch somebody rollin’ dirty (later maybe you’ll do a post on how the absurdity of the drug laws in this country has led to a whole lifestyle and lexicon, ruining thousands of lives in the process, while providing job-security and military capability down at the Mayberry PD…but I digress), or by a wolf (I like that term too) to choose the weakest sheep to slaughter.
But profiling the individuals around you to assess a potential threat (and not by how they dress or walk or talk but how they act and how they move and by their eyes), is what can not only keep you alive and out of harm’s way but also keep you from living that life with the trauma and guilt and expense of using that lethal tool that you carry to do what it was intended to do, but you hope never to do, as a last-ditch, life-or-death method of saving the life of you or yours.
I’m a lucky man and I know it. In 36 years of working my pawn shop counter I never had to draw down. I’ve been ready to in the times those neck hairs you spoke of bristled (I call it pawn-dar). But the eye contact I mentioned, making a point of speaking to every person who walks in my door which makes them look at me looking at them, and (I like to think) my manner and reputation for treating everyone with fairness and respect, has kept my hand that is wrapped around the pistol grip of the 12G under the counter or the grip of the .38 in its holster or even the tiny NAA .22 in my pocket, from ever having to engage Rules 2 and 3. But hell, if I went to Red every time someone who might commonly be labeled a “thug” walked in my door, I wouldn’t have time to deal with my customers, which is what most of them really were. I gave and got respect, and to this day I get a holla and sometimes even a bump/hug from people I did business with a decade ago, who remember and appreciate being treated like a person, but who they knew would show the door to anyone who wasn’t “straight”.
So leave the thug term to the leo’s or to people who apply the term colloquially to themselves, and to people who use it out of hate or pure ignorance. As it applies to CCW, call it profiling. Call it situational awareness. Or just call it the common sense to avoid the people and places which could cost you your life or cause you to take action that will haunt you for the rest of it. Just do it. But don’t do it just for “thugs” because nobody knows what that really is. And you never know when it’s really the crotchety unstable old dude in the theater seat behind you that you really need to be concerned about.
Ah, the p-word. “Profiling,” like “thug,” has come to mean different things to different people. The few who pervert it to suit nefarious ends have indeed given it a bad rap. But in its purest, most innate form, even those who condemn profiling actually do it every day. And if they dont, they should.
Sounds like you had a lovely day!!!
I am a reader of the blog Surviving in Argentina by Ferfal (Fernando Aguirre) and his book “Surviving The Economic Collapse”. One of his many good points was that when things got bad there it was very hard to tell the good guys from the “thugs” and that a refined situational awareness required him to stop thinking in terms of stereotypes. The good guys could be dressing in ties and coats as a form of urban camo. In reality this is an attitude of being careful of everyone and articulating your concern for wellbeing relates less with appearance or race, and more with “odd” or irrational, out of place behavior. I think this is good advice. Add me to the list of instructors who advise their students to pay attention to their instincts, even if a basis for concern cannot be perceived. It cannot always be explained but this warning system is real.
Real indeed. And hard-wired.
I’m fully aware of what the word “thug” means and where it originated. I don’t like it though as its also often used for loutish behavior, or a source of prestige. A criminal, especially a violent criminal. may be the most charming an civilized sociopath you never wanted to meet. But in no way whatsoever represent themselves as a thug. Name calling of any sort, in jest or not can come back to haunt you in a civil court action or worse criminal trial. The bottom line listen much and speak little. If you’ve a need (and you should) for mental preparation or rehearsal, do so privately.
I could write a lot more on this but it gets into the law enforcement “officer survival” mindset and isn’t necessarily applicable here. It also delves into I was there stories that I find rather boring. So simply enough invest in training, practice often and stay as physically fit as you can. Avoid alcohol and mood altering medication and always, always be aware of where you are and your surroundings. .
As I always understood it, the word thug derived from the Indian Thuggee Cult and uprising. I understand though that it has been adopted by the “hip hop generation” (for lack of a better term). I try to use the terms “bad guy,” “criminal” or “wolf.” I tell my students there is no way to tell what a bad guy will look like.
Like you, I also tell them if the hair on the back of their neck stands up to pay attention that it’s doing it for a reason. I explain that is the caveman part of their brain recognizing something their civilized mind hasn’t registered yet. I also tell them that everyone has an internal threat meter and as their brain registers clues the meter goes up and down so paying attention to their surroundings is vital. I go on to tell them of they do have to shoot someone, they are going to have to be able to put into words why they felt in fear for their life (or someone else’s life). That “I was afraid,” isn’t good enough.
Wolf! I like!
Good one. Comment later. Time to take wifey to Tarjhey, movie, and a good steak.
All very worthy alternatives to commenting on my blog! Beware of the thugs at Tarjhey. 🙂
Incidentally, I am a crackhead for movies of all kinds (another blog I have yet to start), so please do share if you see one you’d recommend.
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