San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1960s became one of the most impoverished areas in California. Public policy professors James Q. Wilson and Richard Hernstein wrote: "One neighborhood in San Francisco had the lowest income, the highest unemployment rate, the highest proportion of families with incomes under $4,000 per year, the least educational attainment, the highest tuberculosis rate and the highest proportion of substandard housing. ... That neighborhood was called Chinatown. Yet, in 1965, there were only five persons of Chinese ancestry committed to prison in the entire state of California."
Two low-income areas outside of Boston -- South Boston and Roxbury -- were featured several years ago in U.S. News & World Report. They had similar socio-economic profiles: high levels of unemployment; the same percentage of children born to single-parent households; and the same percentage of people living in public housing. But the violent crime rate in Roxbury, predominately black, was four times higher than that of South Boston, predominately white.
Culture and values explain why some countries and some communities experience crime, while others do not. This explains why many students from Asian countries outperform equally "disadvantaged" black and brown students from the same "underperforming" inner-city government schools.
Culture and values explain a 2011 article headlined, "New Zealand Police 'Sickened' at Looting in Quake-Hit City": "New Zealand police said ... they were 'sickened' at a spate of looting, email scams and bogus appeals for charity in the wake of the deadly Christchurch earthquake. ... Lootings and burglaries, including one at the home of a woman feared dead in the disaster, have also been reported, while fraudulent emails soliciting charity donations were also doing the rounds." The Japanese earthquake was over 8,000 times more powerful than the New Zealand quake earlier this year.
Culture and values explain the fear in Egypt and Libya of looting from museums that house precious historical and cultural artifacts.
Culture and values explain why in Los Angeles, a city with a 46 percent Hispanic population and a 10 percentage Asian population, one sees no Latinos or Asians holding up "Will Work for Food" signs. When South Korea played for soccer's 2010 World Cup, the Los Angeles Korean community received permits to view games on big-screen monitors in the streets near Koreatown. The police said the streets were more trash-free after the games than before.
Culture and values are not set in stone. They can and do change for the better -- especially when we accept responsibility and stop blaming bad behavior on poverty. Plain and simple.