Notes on a west coast wilding

Posted: Sep 06, 2000 12:00 AM
There was a fatal beating on the West Coast three weeks ago. It was the kind of incident that makes the hair on your arms stand up straight. The kind that makes you gasp out loud and double-check the locks on your front door. The kind that makes you wonder why, if violent crime rates are plunging, the kids today seem more violent and out of control than ever before. Most of the country never heard about this unprovoked murder in the Pacific Northwest -- and probably wouldn't care much if it had made national news. In our wild and wilding world, kiddie thrill kills are run-of-the-mill. And if these monstrous crimes don't involve guns, the establishment media and Million Mom Marcher types shrug their shoulders and look away. Eight boys, the youngest just 11 years old, came together one August night in Tacoma, Wa. They had an end-of-summer barbecue and then, according to local prosecutors, roamed their neighborhood until they found a man walking home alone. They were, says one of them, "bored." A relative of one of the boys later complained that the city didn't offer enough recreational activities. As if more midnight basketball funding would have stopped these depraved little thugs from doing what they are accused of doing to 30-year-old Erik Toews. The kids didn't ask him to play basketball. They didn't squirt water guns at him to relieve their boredom. Or throw rocks. Or even just rob him and run. No. According to police, one of the punks approached Toews for a cigarette. He handed one over and then the eight youths reportedly jumped, punched, and kicked Toews. Toews broke away briefly and almost escaped, but the gang swarmed on him once more. The youngest of the marauders allegedly used a croquet mallet to strike Toews over and over and over again. The leader of the pack, a 19-year-old punk apparently inspired by the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, is said to have done knee-drops onto Toews' face as he lay on the street bleeding. He counted out loud as he delivered each blow, and stopped when he got to 28. He must have just gotten bored. Toews, who had been working two jobs in order to support his mother and brother, lapsed into a coma and died a week later. The eight suspects in Toews' death have also been linked to nine assaults and robberies near a neighborhood park over a one-month period. They graduated quickly from stealing wallets and slapping strangers to attacking them with bats and then killing Toews like a pack of wild animals. Everyone in the community knew these kids -- knew they were rotten. But like the East Coast wildings in Central Park a decade ago and in Manhattan earlier this summer, no one -- not even the police -- did anything to stop the rabid gang from shattering lives and savaging peace. Last week, while the Tacoma boys were entering not guilty pleas, another band of copycat hoodlums menaced the trendy streets of nearby Seattle. A group of six to eight boys targeted men walking alone near restaurants and shops. In one incident, a man was kicked and beaten on the ground by the pack and thrown into a lamppost. A witness said he heard one of the teens say something like "I got 20" -- as in points. "I think it was some sort of game," the witness said. Deadened to violence, oblivious to consequences, contemptuous of authority, and derelict about life. "What is it," asks Tacoma Mayor Brian Ebersole, "in the psyche of a society that allows kids to think this way?" Here's a start: It's the substitution of stiff discipline with spineless "anger management" and "conflict resolution" programs. It's the mindset that turns parents into their children's "friends." It's the tolerance of adults who allow children to tell them to shut up and principals who let students spit on their teachers. It's endless hours of MTV and Eminem and gangsta rap and Smack Downs and Ricki Lake-refereed screaming matches. It's the sacrifice of self-control for self-esteem. These cold-blooded children terrorizing the streets were made, not born, to be wild. They are the deadly offspring of radical egalitarianism and collective cowardice.