Thugs Need a Dose of Shame

SUSAN AU ALLEN

November 09, 1993|By SUSAN AU ALLEN

WASHINGTON — Washington.--Bo Hua Cha -- Anita, as her friends called her -- and her husband, Chong Won Cha, came to the United States from South Korea more than 20 years ago in pursuit of the American dream. In earlier years, the Chas held two jobs in Washington, so they could save enough to open a dry-cleaner's business and educate their four children. They opened their business 10 years ago, and put all four daughters into college. One graduated, and the others are on their way.

But Anita's dream won't happen. She was murdered on a Monday mid-afternoon, September 27, by a thug who wanted the few dollars she had in the cash register.

Seven other Asian American business owners in Washington have been murdered this year. Their dreams and Anita's are now living nightmares for their survivors. And Asian Americans are not the only one with nightmares. In all, 45 small-business owners in the Washington area have been killed for few dollars by thugs. Business owners of every color, race and ethnic origin wonder if they are next. And children, killed randomly on playgrounds, don't even make it into adulthood.

This is intolerable. We either find solutions or face a series of disastrous falling dominoes -- more murders, more deaths, more suffering families, an exodus of merchants from poor neighborhoods, a decent but immobile and desperate citizenry living in terror and helplessness without close and convenient shopping facilities, and a signal to all residents -- if you go for the American dream in certain parts of the nation, you could end up dead.

What can be done that isn't being done now? This is an urgent question, and I think it needs to be answered both conventionally and unconventionally. Beefed-up police patrols, neighborhood watch programs and other conventional programs all help, but they haven't solved the problem. We also need unconventional means that demonstrate our utter contempt for killers.

Let me offer a few suggestions. In at least a few developed Asian nations, crime levels are generally low and murder for a few dollars is rare. There are a number of reasons for this.

Most Asian adults (as with most We do need to restore hope and growth to poverty-stricken areas. But that can't be done successfully until neighborhoods are safe. When that happens, business and jobs will return and so will hope and growth.

American adults) believe they have responsibility for bringing children into the world, for raising and educating them. They believe parents are responsible if the child goes wrong. If a child, a teen-ager, or a young adult commits a crime, the first question asked is ''What did we do wrong?' An Asian thug brings great shame to his family and community. No one wants shame. Asian nations are generally not permissive. They believe the individual is responsible for his acts, and should bear the consequences of his acts.

In the United States, however, mention of criminal activity doesn't always result in shame to the individual, family or community. Indeed, many criminals seek media coverage; mention of their activities in the newspaper or on television brings them a distorted sense of glory and recognition. One thug even urinated over his victim to show off for a video camera. He made television news. He became somebody.

In the United States, there are two competing philosophies -- accountability and excusability. The latter is permissive -- if a thug thugs, society is at fault, whites are at fault, poverty is at fault. Everybody is responsible except the individual who FTC committed the crime, and few criminals suffer the consequences of their actions because thugs are turned into victims. This philosophy protects the criminal from shame and shields him from effective retribution by an outraged community.

When a community is outraged and focused, politicians must respond or lose their jobs. Excusability -- permissiveness and victim thinking -- allows blame to be dispersed, thus giving the politician many excuses for failure. Citizen outrage is the vehicle upon which true community reform rides; it strengthens the will of politicians to correct unacceptable and outrageous conditions.

As long as something or someone else can be blamed, as long as there is a ''victim'' mentality, the will for true reform or growth will remain weak. And, as long as there is a ''blame'' and ''victim'' mentality, individuals will not take full control over their own lives and seek momentary escape from reality in drugs, alcohol and adolescent sex. All this perpetuates crime.

We do need to restore hope and growth to poverty-stricken areas. But that can't be done successfully until neighborhoods are safe. When that happens, business and jobs will return and so will hope and growth. Making neighborhoods safe is the first priority.

We are not hopeless.

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