Thursday, January 23, 2014

What Kim Pham's Death Tells Us We're Doing Wrong

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 appreciation 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 so that 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," putting them on trial, and locking them up behind bars is not solving 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.

Shortly following a Giants-Dodgers game near the Giants' ballpark 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 to 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.

It is what it is.
That's kindergarten-level humanity.

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'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.


 
kim pham, santa ana, witnesses, vanesa zavala, death, awareness, love, peace, unity
More on Kim Pham here.


52 comments:

  1. Well written! Change starts with one person, one action. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I am so sick and heartbroken over what happened to Kim. I think about her and her family daily. I agree with everything you said here and it really makes you think. Thank you so much for writing this and I, for one, am with you about trying to change the human race. There is definitely too much anger in this country and it seems to get easier and easier for people to take someone's life just like that. Very scary.

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    2. Thanks so much for reading this; I keep thinking about her too and how devastating for her friends and family this must be. Something needs to change! I really appreciate you commenting and sharing your thoughts here :)

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    3. I think this is awful and sickening. May her soul rest in peace, I pray God brings justice to her family. That is just to evil!

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  2. be the change you want to see...! I dig it

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  3. Well said, I actually learned something valuable from your article. I was getting really angry from everything that's been on the news like the Kim Nguyen story, and the Kim Pham story just topped it off for me. I wanted to drive down to Santa Ana this weekend and try to be Batman or something.. but you're right, spewing out more hate into the world is not the right thing to do. Everyone relies on the justice system to handle everything that's wrong, but what happens when the justice system and the people that are supposed to be protecting us are corrupted? You get a case like Chris Dorner's where he tried to take justice into his own hands. Obviously that is not the right way to handle the situation but he was thinking, who else is going to handle it. What other choice did he have? Start a protest? I don't know.. society man.. Maybe it's the Devil.... but from now own I'm going to start smiling more and spreading the love! I'll start there. Thanks for your article.

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    1. I think that's a great start! You make a really good point about Chris Dorner, too. I'm glad you liked the article. It's natural to feel angry at first but dealing with the anger in a positive way is what makes us better. That's what I TRY to do (I don't always succeed haha). Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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  4. Stop dreaming....Humans are the lowest rung of all species...those in that dreadful town of Santa Ana just proved it again....Animals dontt treat their own like that. To Hell with all of us...We deserve it...

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    1. Sorry you feel that way, but thank you for reading and participating in the discussion!

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  5. everyone has kindness and evil in them; it's sad that we glorify evil and shun on kindness. MARK my words..HUMANITY is doom..we will kill ourselves and everything on this planet. it is true about what we are. The only way we can be better as a whole....is to TAKE the RED pill and wake up!!! we are all slaves to the SYSTEM

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    1. Yes, it's time to worship kindness instead. Thank you for reading!

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  6. well like someone said :"Be the change you want to see in the world"
    Well written and I'm glad that I have read it...

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    1. Yeah, I love that quote...thanks very much for reading and sharing your thoughts, glad you liked it!

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    1. Thanks very much for reading and commenting :)

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    2. That was a powerful message and I will do my best to live by example and influence others to do so as well. We'll written and thank you for that. I needed that. I just decided to receive Christ as my lord and savior again and I'm receiving signs all over that it was the best decision I made my entire life. You're a beautiful person for writing this. We are living in our last days we need to change if we want to survive any longer. Cartoons are violent, movies are extra violent...Our world revolves around it and people like it. We need to spread love not war!!

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  8. Thanks for the motivation. Time to fly to Kiev and put in the time to make things right over there

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    1. Thank you for reading. Yea, the Ukraine is crazy scary right now.

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  9. I agree, there's way too much hatred and jealousy in the world =/

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  10. We as a society have come to expect that law enforcement do for our communities what we used to be able to do for ourselves. We cannot outsource the protection of ourselves and our neighbors. This really does make me feel pro-gun. Great post!

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  11. positivity- it's the best thing you can offer to the world. :)

    A great person once said "Justice is good, but Love is the best."

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    1. Yes, yes, exactly what I wanted to express :) thank you for commenting!

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  12. I appreciate your article and agree with your overall message, but I think there's some underlying misconceptions about our justice system and law enforcement.

    1) Law enforcement aren't there to "serve and protect" the community, nor are they there to "get the bad guy." Their primary purpose is to collect evidence to help prosecutors in a subsequent criminal trial. If you get pulled over by a cop, the moment they step out of their car, and even before then, they are making as many observations as possible so they can justify giving out a ticket. If someone calls about a domestic dispute, their main job isn't to protect the person being attacked, but to grab as much evidence for that trial that will come up.

    2) Criminal trials. Society has this expectation from shows like law and order that trials are to make sure the bad guy gets found guilty. If someone the media has portrayed as the villain somehow gets found "not guilty" then it means the system is "broken." It's usually not until a person themselves gets placed in a situation where they have to have their fate judged by 12 members of society that they understand how precious the constitutional protections we have in place are. People are put in trial because it isn't clear whether or not there is guilt and if someone makes an accusation that you have committed a crime, it's the government's job to prove full well, BEYOND a reasonable doubt that you in fact committed it. Just google up the Innocence Project and you'll find that thousands of people have been convicted of brutal crimes decades ago and just now DNA evidence proves that they were never even at the scene of the crime! There's even situations where DNA evidence proves people innocent but the police coerce confessions and juries then follow the confession instead.

    Ultimately, I think the cause of our social ills is a lack of empathy. We're so quick to dismiss other people or other stories because we're so concerned about number 1. Or we ride onto some hype train the media builds glued to our tv sets with voyeuristic intent. I went to undergrad at UCI, definitely feel for Kim Pham's friends and family and would also like to see justice done. But I feel that media coverage isn't aimed at seeking justice but instead is about their usual quest for ratings.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful insight. There are definitely misconceptions about the role of law enforcement and the court system, especially because of the way media portrays it. My aim was not to discredit or misrepresent the jobs of those in that field but rather to remind everyone that they have a job to do as well: to (as you point out) act with empathy and compassion rather than with self-serving ends.

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  13. The world is not a perfect place. God gives you a time to die. Yes we got to help illiterate people and teach others about peace and humanity. That would make a world a better place but we can't have everything we want in this planet.

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    1. Yup, but the point of living is to make life better until you die, right? Thanks for reading!

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  14. The articles solutions are as empty as what it was criticizing. We need to actually work on changing the system itself. People are doing it and here's how: http://www.wolf-pac.com

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    1. yep. felt like i read a whole lot of nothin. same ol' "lets make the world a better place" crap. truth is, theres always gonna be piece of shit people and bullshit like this is bound to happen no matter how much better the world is.

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    2. Haha, silly me, what I meant to say was leaving critical comments on blogspot is the BEST way to change the world!

      In any case, I will work harder to convince the non-believers and I hope whatever route you take, we get to the same conclusion somehow.

      I did check out the wolf-pac link and agree that working toward free democracy is a good way to change the system and wish you the best of luck in that endeavor.

      Thank you for reading a whole lot of "nothin" all the same. :)

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  15. Well written, extremely thoughtful. What made up societies? I believe best you can do is learn to protect yourself teach other to protect themselves and pass that on to the young generation. Violence will continue, it will never end, how will you adapt to it to survive?

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    1. Thank you for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I think we can adapt by fighting violence with its opposing force: love.

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  16. Your article is so well-written and takes a fresh perspective on the whole situation. I completely agree with you that the kindness and compassion should not only come from people after a violent crime has occurred. The justice system has it's problem, but that's not the point. People behaving badly is not an effect of the justice system, but it is a problem with society. People should play their role in making the human race better and more respectable by practicing lovingkindness day in and day out.
    People should practice compassion, not only empathy. People should practice to be more positive and less angry. These little changes in behavior and attitude that we make within ourselves aren't so little when it is felt by others. Hopefully, if we start practicing lovingkindness it would lead to a positive rippling effect and we would hear less stories violent stories like these and more uplifting ones. Thanks a taking a fresh perspective on such a tough situation and sending such a positive message at the same time.

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    1. Dear Mimi, thank you for reading and providing this valuable insight! I absolutely agree that practicing loving and kindness would lead to a positive rippling effect. It's hard for many to see that a little change can go a long way, but I hope that the more people that feel this way, the closer we can get to a kinder society. And finally, I totally believe that compassion, not only empathy, is the way to reach true kindness. By taking that route, we can learn to feel for people and value human life even when we can't empathize with their experiences. Thanks again for your beautiful and heartfelt response.

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  17. Well said!! Everyone should read this and think. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you; I'm very glad you liked it :)

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  18. Very glad I read this all the way through. Thank you for writing this. :)

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting :)

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  19. I like your article but i cant help but point out that violent crime is actually pretty low, I think it has been going down consistently for at least a decade: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/violent-crime/violent-crime-offense-figure

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    1. Thank you for reading and glad you liked it. You're right, our violent crime rate has decreased but the specifics of Kim's death compelled me to say something about our society's mentality. Appreciate the link and the info!

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  20. Loved it!! Well said....Applying it in my life! Thanks!!

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    1. Thank you for reading and passing on the love :)

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  22. I just can't believe that this happened in my city. Yet, at the same time, it reminds me that injustice and discrimination is indiscriminate. What if I, a Latino, was partying in Westminster, a predominantly Vietnamese community? I wouldn't think I would incite violence considering I refute that so-called method of problem-solving. But how would I really know? Is it ingrained in our subconscious to handle everything with violence? Would I be pulled to such extremes? I don't like the idea of becoming a murderer because I have anger, or that it takes provocation to show that sinister part of our hearts. I know that kindness acted upon me makes me feel happy and joyful. Yet, when I walk those streets I can't help but feel I am in hostile territory within my neighborhood and outside city borders to other ethnic communities, mostly in other ethnic communities. My guard is immediately brought up. The sad part is, is that, that has become the norm of our attitudes towards others. I will do my best showing more compassion and acting out of kindness to others. On a brighter note, thank you, Irene, for posting this enlightening reminder.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, freedum. Well said. You're right, I think that there is a natural subconscious pull toward anger when we are faced with provocation, even when we know that acting out of kindness creates joy. The bad and the good are all within us and it's up to us to foster that joyful side rather than indulge the angry side.

      Your compassion will help, I'm sure of it. Every little bit counts. Thank you for reading and participating in such an honest and thoughtful manner!

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  23. contrary to what you said in this article, crime rates are actually dropping almost everywhere. peoples' PERCEPTION of crime is that it's rising, & that's because of the rise of the sharing of information online. it's so much easier for a crime to go "viral" now with everyone on fb wanting to give their opinion on it & THAT'S what makes everyone feel like things are going crazy. of course, these are all horrible things that shouldn't have happened, but if you look past your emotions and the hysteria and examine the facts, you'll see that things actually are getting better. what we actually need to do is stop contributing to the hysteria that the media wants you to buy into. it's their job to make you feel like things are crazy right now. I urge you to use your critical thinking skills to look past what the media is feeding you.

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  24. While it's true that the mainstream media manipulate us into thinking the world we live in is for the most part a dangerous and unsafe place to be, I still applaud your call to love and kindness. Thank you, Irene Hsu for sharing from the heart!!! I'm passing this on because you have the right idea and were moved enough to share it! Love & blessings to you.

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    1. Thank you, Tonya, for reading and commenting! Much love to you too!

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