Since the brutal beating and subsequent death of Kim Pham in Santa Ana on January 18, everyone on my Facebook and Twitter feed has been posting links about the crime. As with any other sad story, my first reaction was horror at the violent episode and then the usual anger and sadness followed by a sense of appreciation for the fact that my peers were helpful enough to post this news up on Facebook. Then I closed my Facebook page and started checking my work e-mails. And unexpectedly felt disgusted.
I opened the Facebook page back up and there were five new re-posts of the same story. This time, I read all the comments. Everyone is sad and chilled by the crime. Everyone hopes the video will help the police identify suspects and bring justice to Ms. Pham’s family. Everyone hopes someone will come forward and name the people who hurt her and then we can try them and send them off to jail. Everyone is glad there was one arrest and maybe it will lead to further arrests.
I’m disgusted because in reading all of these heartfelt thoughts and condolences, all I could think was: that’s not good enough.
Our system of tracking down the “guilty ones” and putting them through trial and putting them behind bars is not fixing the true problem here. Our criminal system is one based on deterrence. Basically we’re saying, if you mess up, we’re gonna punish you. But that’s not enough.
On January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III was held down by two police officers and then shot in the back in Oakland, California. People could argue the story has two sides, but there’s no question something brutal and angry happened that day.
Two years later, in July of 2011, Kelly Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic man, was killed by two police officers even while stating he “couldn’t breathe.” This is on video. The internet population was moved. They thought it was “so sad.” The officers were put on trial and then acquitted.
February 2012: George Zimmerman shot the unarmed Trayvon Martin during an altercation. Was that any less brutal than what happened in 2009 or 2011? We put Zimmerman on trial, we condemned him online, we had race wars, we bitched about justice like it was supposed to make things right. If Zimmerman had gone to jail, would justice have prevailed once and for all?
In Koreatown, on the night of March 17, 2013, Kim Nguyen “fell” out of a police car with her dress pulled down to her waist, all her teeth knocked out, and her face bruised and bloodied. People on Facebook vehemently defended either Nguyen or the officers. Whatever happened that night, again, there is no question that anger and brutality prevailed.
At a Giants-Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium in September 2013, two men stabbed 24 year-old Jonathan Denver to death because they got into a fight. Police arrested the suspects and charged them for the stabbing. The internet world was scared and saddened. And the internet world moved on.
Now we have Kim Pham, January 2014, beaten to death by a group of men and women. As I said, my Facebook is jam-packed with pictures of her and videos of her getting beaten, followed with pleas for people to “speak up” with information leading to the suspects’ arrests. I’m seeing numerous comments about how sad it is to see a young life taken away so brutally and with such a lack of respect for human life. We talk about how it’s “not right.” We talk about how it’s not just.
“Let’s get those monsters that beat her up and left her for dead.”
“Let’s put those men on trial for hitting and killing a girl.”
“Let’s hope and pray for justice.”
That’s what I’m seeing. And then what next? We know what’s next. Another bout of anger and violence, case opened, emotions spent, money spent, police forces spent, legal fees spent, jail time spent, taxes spent, case closed. We close our browsers and sleep better at night until the next crime.
If the system is working, why aren’t things getting better? The same evils are happening over and over again, just with different people in different places.
This cycle of violence is not getting better because we are leaving it up the justice system to fix the ills of society. We are living by that Hollywood blockbuster movie idea that once the cops arrive on the scene, everything is going to be okay.
Sure, posting up information on Facebook or other media outlets holds value for us. Being informed is the first step to change. I am glad that people are emotionally moved by sad stories and brutal crimes and that they have platforms on which to discuss it and air their thoughts.
But that’s not good enough. We are sitting here pointing fingers at the police department or security guards or violent men or angry youths or bystanders who were videotaping but not helping. We are letting the police and court system address the crimes of these people and hoping it will all go away so we can get on with our lives.
In short, we are asking the system to pick up the pieces for us. We are letting them do our dirty work.
That’s right, I said OUR dirty work.
The deaths of Grant, Thomas, Martin, Denver, Nguyen and Pham (and those are just the ones we heard a lot about, there are so many more) are on ALL of our hands because we are simply not doing good enough and not enough good.
It’s not enough to let our justice system say what’s right and wrong in this world. The law is the minimum standard for acceptable human behavior in our society. The lowest common denominator. Yeah, maybe that’s good enough to keep us feeling sort of safe but it is not good enough for what we need to improve as a people. We are setting a bottom line for action but not setting a standard for quality of action.
Leaving crime and injustice up to the authorities is like saying you don’t deserve quality human behavior in your life. And you do. We all do!
Instead of pointing fingers at one or a group of individuals for blame and saying we need to lock them up, we need to start asking ourselves this question: why is there so much anger and why does it translate to brutality and violence? What have we done as a society to breed assailants like the ones that killed Kim Pham?
For one, we have been sitting back and waiting for the good guys to come flying in and save the day. Come on, we are the good guys. We’re the ones looking up information to share with one another. We’re the ones trying to pick out suspects in a grainy video. We’re the ones bombarding each other with sad stories online in order to feel something together. So let’s take the next step.
If you feel something, anything, for any of these people that have been hurt or killed throughout the years, ask yourself what you can do to make us better as a whole. Every single day.
Don’t talk about the old lady you helped across the street that one time. Don’t linger on the homeless guy you gave food to last week. That’s good. But not good enough. What can you do every day to make this world a more loving place? What can you do to make this world a world that is not going to put up with bullshit like what happened to Kim Pham?
Ms. Pham was beaten up by a group of people who were angry, so angry they lost the ability to appreciate the beauty of human life. This happened because we as a people are angry. It doesn’t help to shove them behind bars and ignore them. The anger must be dispelled before it escalates into a group of people kicking the life out of a solitary human being with no one to help her.
The only real way to pay tribute to Kim Pham is to live and act with the kindness that would have saved her life on the night of January 18, 2014.
Whatever you personally think it takes to dispel anger in our society, take the time to do it, whether it means reaching out to mentor at-risk students, tutoring illiterate youths and adults, collecting and organizing food for shelters, giving away your goods and clothing, teaching your children about peace and tolerance, or just plain ol’ being a better, kinder person to everyone around you.
I don’t mean do that once a year for spring cleaning or Lent or Valentine’s Day. I mean, every damn day, believe in a world that can get better and then live like it. Be that world. Be kindness and love and compassion, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Maybe it’s impossible but it’s a hell of a good thing to strive for.
Live less angrily and live more lovingly. Think twice when you call that other driver an “asshole” or a “bitch.” Take an extra deep breath and smile even if you’re having a terrible day. Give your leftovers to that guy sitting on the floor when you walk by. Ask your annoying co-worker how her day was. Spread some joy.
I know this sounds idealistic. Realists would say the world is always going to have crime. I say: we’ve been doing it your way for a long time, realists, and I don’t see things getting much better.
Realists of the world, you haven’t been doing good enough with all your philosophies on how the world is. Don’t give me that “it is what it is” crap. Realists and idealists alike stood by and let Kim Pham get beaten to death.
Realism is simply not getting that job you wanted, or your baby vomiting on your new dress, or reading news about finance, crime and war on CNN.com. Accepting reality is the easy part. It’s just seeing what’s there. Believing in something better takes imagination and hope. It’s advanced learning for humanity.
It is what it is. That’s kindergarten-level humanity. It’s time to stop accepting what is and start seeing what we could be.
Let’s stop thinking what we have now is “good enough.” Let’s ask for more. Let’s get what we deserve as a human race. Let’s start doing more good so we can get better.
Now put a smile on your face and go ask your co-worker how she’s doing today.
More on Kim Pham here.