January 20th, 2014
04:00 PM ET

Don Lemon on 'Thug Cycle': "I’m a truth-teller, not a race-protector"

A video of an African-American toddler unleashing a barrage of profanity has gone viral in recent days after a Omaha, Nebraska police union posted it on their website . Their reasoning? The union claims it is an example of a continuing trend, which they call 'the thug cycle.'

An outcry ensued from the public, accusing the police union of being racist and perpetuating stereotypes of black men as criminals.

The face of the minor was not blurred and was originally posted on Facebook by a relative who found the child's profanity humorous.

We caught up with CNN's Don Lemon, who was OutFront on the 'thug cycle' story, and sparked a discussion about the word 'thug.'

OUTFRONT: Why was the story of Omaha 'Thug Cycle' video important to you?

LEMON: The story was important to me obviously because it’s so outrageous. That could have been me or my two great-nephews. One is just out of diapers. The other is a new born. I couldn’t imagine anyone ever treating them like that. I don’t know what I’d do to someone if they even tried. And they’re not even my children. Every child should have advocates. And the only way I know to advocate for that child and others like him is through my work. And that means doing the story and shining a light on it.

OUTFRONT: How did you go about trying to cover this story?

LEMON: I’m pretty easy going with most CNN producers and especially the EBOF show producers because they really know what they’re doing. But when I’m passionate about something they know it. There was no way in hell we weren’t going to do this story. No way! I picked up the phone and called Omaha police, the Omaha clerk of courts, the Omaha division of children and family services as well as family members of the boy. And I didn’t just call once. I called until I got the information I needed and the court documents. I wanted to tell the story as accurately as possible.

OUTFRONT: What elements of the story angered you?

LEMON: Well the behavior of the adults in the video outraged me more than anything. But what really got me was that people appeared more upset that the Omaha police union re-posted the video from a family member’s Facebook page rather than how the little boy was being treated in his own home. I don’t think police should have shown the little boy’s face in the video. If it were not for that video, we may never have learned of the child’s plight. We may never have learned that at just two-years-old he had already been the victim of a shooting. If it wasn’t for that video that little boy might still be in a dangerous and unsafe home.

I'm very open about the fact that I was sexually abused as a child, so any story involving abuse or potential abuse of children really hits close to home. What any child who is being abused wants most is to be rescued. In my particular case I wouldn't care if my rescuer was racist or white or black or a man or a woman. I would only care that through whatever means, divine intervention or coincidence, I was somehow pulled out of darkness. That's why I think the publishing of the video overrides anything or any intention, racist or otherwise, in the end the child was saved. And that's ultimately a good thing.

OUTFRONT: What did you hear from social media after you started covering the Omaha 'thug' story?

LEMON: Most people appalled by the adult’s behavior. But a lot of people also thought it was racist of the cops to post the video. Those who were outraged by the adult’s behavior wanted me to keep bringing light to the story. Those who thought the cops were racist wanted me to stop doing the story because it made black people look bad. Some even accused me of exploiting the child and black people for doing the story. As a journalist, it’s my job to inform and bring light to dark places. I’m a truth-teller not a race-protector. However, the best way to protect that child was to make people aware of what is happening to him and many children around the country.

OUTFRONT: You said many people were outraged over the posting of the video, saying it perpetuated stereotypes that blacks were criminals. What your thoughts on their criticism?

LEMON: I understand their point. But we didn’t go looking for this story. It came looking for us. Maybe it was God. I don’t know. If the baby in the video had been white or Hispanic or Asian we still would have done the story. But I’m used to criticism so it doesn’t bother me. But the best way not to perpetuate stereotypes is not to be a stereotype. And we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend these things don’t happen just because it embarrasses us in some way. We should be embarrassed that it happens, not that it gets covered on the news.

OUTFRONT: Why is it important for public to know about stories like the Omaha 'thug cycle' baby?

LEMON: It’s important because of many reasons. All you have to do is an Internet search of abused or neglected children and you’ll see why it’s important. It’s also paramount that we begin again to understand the importance of an intact family. Whether married or not, moms and dads must be present and responsible in the lives of their children. People get upset with me for saying this but I’ll keep saying it anyway– just because you can have a child doesn't mean that you should have one. Being a parent is a blessing and an honor. It’s about time we start to realize that.

OUTFRONT: After your coverage of the 'thug cycle' video, you decided to  focus on the word 'thug'. What made you decide to examine the word?

LEMON: I decided to examine the word because people said the use of it was racist. Racist, yet some embrace the word. That's a disconnect. If you call yourself a thug it's considered positive. If someone else calls you one it's racist. Sure context and intent are important. But it's hard for most people to understand why anyone or any group would want to embrace a term that  for centuries has had a very negative connotation; especially when there are so many other words to choose from. So far, only one group has chosen to own the word. I wanted to know why.

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Filed under: 'Thug cycle' video • News
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Brenda Worley

    I agree with you 100% and you are doing the right thing, most people have no idea that children actually live like this so call it out when ever you can and everyone else needs to applaud you for you effort. I can't see the racist part there are enough to cover the whole scope of every race , children of all races need to be uncovered and exposed to the public.
    Your the Man Don Lemon

    January 20, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Reply

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