By Jeong il Ryu
The author is metro news editor of the Korea Daily.
Robberies are surging in Los Angeles. Assailants, donned in hoodies and masks and armed with hammers, move in groups, shattering windows, stealing, and making a swift escape. Alarming instances of these mob robberies are live-streamed on social media almost every day. For these criminals, shame is absent.
In bygone times, thieves were dubbed “night prowlers”, operating under the cloak of darkness. Today, they audaciously operate in daylight, sagging pants revealing their underwear, parading their stolen goods, and conveniently hailing an Uber taxi for a quick getaway. In response, last month, Los Angeles formed a task force comprised of LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, and neighboring police departments to tackle this menace.
Shortly after, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office and the California Labor Commissioner’s Office initiated a specialized wage theft investigation unit, highlighting the gravity of wage theft. However, the Korean American community was taken aback when two Korean American business owners in Jobber Market were slapped with felony wage theft charges. The community now lives in apprehension, fearing any of their business owners could be next, drawing both criticism and sympathy.
In Koreatown, a brazen YouTuber has been irking residents, filming them without their consent and broadcasting these videos on YouTube. A few clips suffice to show the annoyance and disturbance he causes. Though his actions might not be illegal, they are undoubtedly intrusive. While some advises ignoring him, certain irate business owners have vocalized their objections, only to be met with online vitriol.
Public anxiety over robberies is reaching a boiling point. The police seem powerless against this rude YouTuber. A golf shop owner laments the sluggish investigation after witnessing the theft of his premium golf clubs in plain sight. Another suspect, captured on video dragging an elderly Asian woman in a robbery attempt, audaciously pleads not guilty. There’s also the harrowing episode of a near-robbery outside a bank; police did not come over an hour, forcing the victim to personally go to the police station to report the incident.
While many criticize the prosecution’s “Zero bail” policy, the argument that a shortage of prosecutors leading to litigation backlog is unavoidable leaves many, including me, perturbed.
In a bid for safety, some residents are taking drastic measures. A striking cage structure now stands on Vermont Avenue in LA’s Koreatown. Seemingly plucked from a zoo, it is anchored to a building’s exterior, large enough to encase one or two people. This structure, built by a Korean American bank, shields the ATM and its users. One can’t help but feel torn – it offers a sanctuary for customers withdrawing cash, yet its very existence underscores the pervasive fear.
If this daunting spectacle is viewed through the lens of the “broken window theory”, the implications are staggering. The theory posits that an unchecked broken window might invite further vandalism, leading to overall decay. If one entity installs a steel-barred door and others follow suit out of fear of being the odd one out, what does that augur for LA and its Korean American neighborhoods? If those in power – the city, city council, and prosecutors – don’t halt this spiraling cycle of crime, they risk being perceived as mere tax raiders by the public.