A wave of national protests began in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white cop fatally shot Mike Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. The protests focused on the police brutality, extortion and murders targeting predominantly black communities. It was followed by a stomach-turning series of widely-covered extrajudicial assassinations by law enforcement officers, many captured on video and spread through social media. Markedly few of the officers faced any legal consequences for their actions. A Department of Justice investigation found that the Ferguson PD was using outrageous fines, questionable arrests and a pattern of violence and intimidation to squeeze the local population for revenue. Subsequent reporting suggested this conduct is not limited to the St. Louis suburbs, but is a nationwide pandemic. The demand for justice, equality, and the recognition that Black Lives Matter spread rapidly. But just as fast a counter-narrative was propagated; a vicious, uncharitable rot of grotesque stereotypes. This poisonous bile was distilled by the major organs of American media. Talking heads sprayed each new viral snuff video with a suggestion that the unarmed and unconvicted dead was a ‘thug,’ a newly favored dysphemism.
It was a symptom of a growing dyspeptic rump in the American body politic; a strain of reactionary ideas that seemed, at least for a little while, to have gone into remission. Instead it revealed itself as a boil, swollen with resentment. Dysphemisms police how we talk about systems of exploitation. They can infect movements for solidarity, create perpetrators where there are none, or launder injustice as part of the natural order. The abscess of hate that surfaced was built up over decades injecting dysphemisms peddled by cable news and AM radio quacks. It is a bitter malpractice that continues to this day, while the only beneficiaries of the treatment are those who profit off society’s ills.