Flogging of teen vandal draws ample backing

March 30, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

On my desk is a stack of letters several inches high. They are from readers responding to a column I wrote about Michael Fay, who is to be flogged in Singapore.

If you missed the story, a brief summary:

Fay, 18, lives in Singapore with his mother and stepfather.

He and a group of other young goofs engaged in a wave of vandalism: spray-painting and throwing eggs at cars, switching license plates, tearing down traffic signs and so on.

That wasn't smart. Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world. It also has some of the strictest laws.

Fay was caught, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months in prison, a $2,000 fine and flogging.

Flogging means he will be whacked six times on the bare butt with a length of bamboo, wielded by a martial arts expert.

It is said that people who are flogged in Singapore sometimes go into shock and can be scarred on the buns for life.

Fay's father, who lives in Ohio, has been going on TV and radio, telling of his son's plight. President Clinton has protested the flogging to Singapore authorities. They have told Clinton to mind his own business.

When I wrote about young Fay, I didn't take a position. I tried to give two opposing arguments:

(1) The sentence seems harsh by American legal standards, and if it was your kid, you wouldn't like it.

(2) Singapore is a remarkably safe, orderly society precisely because it is rough on all lawbreakers (they hang drug dealers), and when you live in a foreign land, you better abide by its laws or suffer the consequences.

Back to the mail from the readers.

If the letters are an indication, young Fay and his father are asking the wrong country -- the United States -- to shed a tear of sympathy.

Or else I have some of the most hard-nosed readers this side of Singapore.

At least 99 percent of them said that, yes, hooray, he should be flogged, and flogging should be part of our justice system. That was an easy percentage to come to, since only one person said she objected.

A few representative comments:

Tim Murtaugh, Melrose Park, Ill.: "I have no sympathy for young Mr. Fay. How often in this country do we see the criminal in fear? Interesting how troublemakers don't like a dose of their own medicine. Damage property here and you don't get punished. Someone is there to tell you you 'need help.' In the meantime, the property owner is stuck with the bill."

Tom Lavin, Niles, Ill.: "I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that this guy never does it again. We should do it in this country. Five or six whacks on the can with a cat-o'-nine-tails is a great deterrent."

Lloyd Thornblad, Torrance, Calif.: "Fay chose to disobey the law, knowing the consequence. We were recently in Singapore and found the city head and shoulders above any others in cleanliness. Caning should make anyone think twice before being lawless."

Claude Waife, South Bend, Ind.: "That American punk is getting exactly what he deserves. If we had similar laws, I'm sure our streets wouldn't be under control of the thugs and slugs."

Chris Hill, Pasco, Wash.: "I called the Embassy of Singapore in Washington to tell them that I have no problem with the sentence. The embassy's attache mentioned that most of the calls he has received favored the sentence. Clinton should keep his red nose out of Singapore's business."

Fred Krauss, Kennewick, Wash.: "Bill Clinton sounds like an ass."

Bob Andrewski, Villa Park, Ill.: "Maybe what we need in this country are the same laws and punishment they have in Singapore. We wouldn't have the problems that we have today."

Jim Larson, Fox Valley, Ill.: "That 18-year-old lived in Singapore, so he knew about their strict laws. If we had their laws, there would be less killings of children, fewer dope peddlers, fewer children dope addicts and less destruction of property."

Virginia Sekenske, Chicago: "I wish something like that could be done here with these punks and their graffiti. I have no sympathy. I don't, I don't!"

Zoltan Newberry, Chicago: "Since Orientals do not take kindly to threats, and value 'face' above everything else, President Clinton should send the rulers of Singapore his face -- a bust of himself. Thus, he would be exchanging the face of a schmuck for the ass of a kid."

So what does this response tell us? That Americans are cruel, bloodthirsty and hate young people?

No, it tells us that many Americans are fed up by what has happened to them, or to others, or what they see in their newspapers or on TV.

It tells us that the justice system in this country is out of step with the feelings of the majority. Besides three strikes, they'd like to see six swats.

And it means that there can be a political future for those who have a hard-nosed pitch.

Is that good or bad? I'm not sure. I suppose it depends on whether you are on the north or south end of the spray can or pistol.

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