Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Homesocial-and-lifestyleA call for change

A call for change

A 14-year-old boy was arrested earlier this month for using a modified gun to open fire on shoppers at Siam Paragon shopping mall. The shooting resulted in three deaths and injury to four others. To prevent such tragic events from happening in the future, media platform together with Kid For Kids, Child and Family Policy Knowledge Center, recently organised a forum to discuss what people can learn from the event.

Dr Deja Piyavhatkul, a psychiatrist at Thainakarin Hospital, said the Siam Paragon mass shooting was the fourth incident reported by media in Thailand. This event is especially traumatising because the perpetrator is a teenager. The psychiatrist said he had previously urged the police to organise a multidisciplinary meeting, so they could gather knowledge from various fields to prevent mass shootings. Unfortunately, such meetings never took place.

“I had warned the police since mass shootings in Nakhon Ratchasima [2020] and Nongbua Lamphu [2022] that another mass shooting would definitely happen. The authorities should study the previous cases. A mass shooting is similar to a pandemic, but it happens due to several reasons including imitation, inspiration, loneliness among teens and incitement within subculture groups. Mass shootings are complicated issues which require multidisciplinary specialists,” said Dr Deja.

“I also asked authorities to establish criteria that define what a mass shooting is, but it has not been done. The police lack knowledge about their frequency, format, demographics and how mass shootings may occur. They should have an effective data system in place.”

Khemporn Wirunrapan, manager of the Child and Youth Media Institute, pointed out that after the incident, people focused on criticising the teenage perpetrator and his parents, but there was no analysis of prevention for the future. Khemporn said the incident was related to structural violence and authoritarianism.

“Authoritarianism does not only refer to people with rank, it can include those who are older, physically stronger, or those who are of different nationality. The incident should serve as a lesson to learn about inter-relationships. Some parents make decisions for their children about what they should study, who their friends should be and even how they should spend their free time. Withholding joint decision-making from people with less power can foster violence in every corner of society,” said Khemporn.

Prof Surasak Likasitwatanakul, a lecturer at the Center for Criminal Law and Criminology at the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, commented that media outlets normalise violence by presenting it in the news. He noted that other countries reported news without displaying violent images, even when covering significant events such as the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami and the 2015 Paris attacks. Besides the media, Thais also share violent images from the news on social media.

After the Paragon incident, Prof Surasak discovered people were divided into two groups. One group supported retributive justice, which is a system based on the punishment of offenders rather than on rehabilitation. The other group supported restorative justice, which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

“People who study teenage psychology understand they are not fully grown, so the punishment for teenagers is different from adults. The justice process for youth is a disciplinary one that involves psychiatrists and social workers in the investigation,” Prof Surasak said. “Many people assume incorrectly the teenage perpetrator will not be punished. This is not true. According to criminal law, since he is under 15 which is in law still a child, he will not be imprisoned or executed. However, he is still responsible for any damage under civil law. If he cannot pay for the damages, his parents must be responsible for it. We have to accept the truth that the teenage perpetrator is also a victim of violence in society.”

Prof Surasak explained that one method for handling child perpetrators is to emphasise rehabilitation. The perpetrator will have restrictions placed on their freedom at a juvenile detention centre, but they will receive education and rehabilitation. Some news reports mentioned the teenage perpetrator has mental issues. Prof Surasak believes people with psychiatric disorders should be treated at a hospital rather than being detained.

Nattaya Boonpakdee, director of the Thai Health Promotion’s Healthy Child, Youth and Family Promotion section, pointed out the case showed that young people in Thailand can easily access weapons. She asked authorities to reform regulations involving firearms or to organise a special project for purchasing guns back from citizens. Nattaya cited the Australian government’s gun buyback programme which purchased 650,000 weapons in one year.

In terms of what Thailand lacks in coping with mass shootings, Dr Deja said the latest shooting appears to involve a hate crime, an area where Thailand lacks in-depth research.

“Our society has never conducted in-depth research on discrimination based on genders and nationalities. There is no social campaign against discrimination, nor is there any campaign to encourage people to change their attitudes towards discrimination,” the psychiatrist said.

It was a surprise to learn that Thailand does not have a Behavioural Analysis Unit to handle psychologically motivated crimes. This kind of unit is necessary because criminals with psychological issues think differently from others, so investigations and procedures must be adjusted accordingly.

“In Thailand, most mass shooting perpetrators are people who have access to firearms. We should create profiles of all firearm owners and monitor them. Thailand lacks even a system to evaluate personalities of government officials. When some officials experience mental issues, state agencies do not have any facilities to support them,” Dr Deja said.

To channel young people’s energy properly and positively, both the psychiatrist and law lecturer agreed that Thailand should establish more adolescent recreation centres.

Prof Surasak commented that media and people should tone down violence and hatred, as well as have more empathy towards people of different genders and nationalities.

Since mass shootings are a complex issue, Khemporn and Nattaya suggested that coping with violence should be a top priority. While Nattaya advised that both government organisations and private companies should provide anger management training to their employees at all levels, Khemporn recommended that people should not disseminate violent images and information.

“Violence is not limited to physical violence alone. It can appear in the form of bullying and ignorance, which are as severe as physical violence. People should realise that violence is unacceptable. Since everyone is a media user, they should never disseminate violent content. This is everyone’s responsibility to society and the world,” said Khemporn.

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