The nation has been left reeling by a stabbing spree on a Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train on Wednesday that left four people dead and 23 injured.
The first deadly attack on an MRT train since the system’s inception in 1996, the incident has raised public safety concerns in a nation where violent crime in public is very rare — and in particular, has put fear in the hearts of MRT commuters, who, according to government ridership statistics, total more than 1.74 million people a day, or the equivalent to a quarter of the total population of Taipei and New Taipei City combined.
After the attack, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) was quick to promise an increased police presence on the MRT system, adding he has requested reinforcements from the National Police Agency for the next two weeks to help ensure passenger safety.
The high visibility of police at MRT stations and on all trains yesterday did help calm nerves. However, deploying more police is not enough to prevent a similar incident. The authorities must determine what can be done to prevent a similar attack and take the necessary actions.
As police and prosecutors continue their investigations into the attack, three issues surfaced immediately that require a serious response from the authorities.
First, the availability of and effectiveness of mental health counseling for students (and others) and intervention should be reviewed.
According to New Taipei City Police Department Director-General Chen Kuo-en (陳國恩), the suspect has no record of mental health problems. However, media reports say that Tunghai University in Greater Taichung confirmed that a school counselor saw the suspect last month after he posted a Facebook message saying he “wanted to do something shocking and big.” The counselor found nothing amiss and the issue was dropped, the reports said.
Accounts of alleged anti-social behavior by the suspect and the discovery that he had pinned up the words “I will never get treated” outside his dorm room door also suggest the suspect might have had some mental health issues.
One cannot help but wonder if Wednesday’s attack might have been prevented if an effective mental health consultation and intervention system was in place.
The second issue raised is the effectiveness of the MRT’s safety measures and system. For example, TV screens in MRT stations encourage passengers to press the red alert buttons in each train car, which connects to an intercom system with the train driver, in the event of emergency. Apparently one person did press one of the buttons during the rampage, but the driver did not receive a reply upon responding.
After 18 years of operation, it appears that MRT users have no idea what pressing a red button will achieve. Some think it will bring the train to an immediate halt, others think it will make the train move faster. This clearly indicates that more public outreach needs be done to ensure that the safety measures in place ensure passenger safety.
Last but not least, that the alleged assailant is a college student could make people wonder “what’s wrong with today’s youth?” The incident should raise alarm about the broader issue of the struggles and problems facing today’s younger generation. Not only should we be asking what resources are available to help and guide them, we must ask what can be done to improve their vision of the future. Are they looking forward to a future full of promise, or do they feel hopeless about the state of the economy, their job prospects and the nation’s future?
Government and society must work together to try to ensure that Wednesday’s attack remains an isolated tragedy. No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they use public transportation, or when they are out in public in general.
On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke during the opening ceremony of this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA). For the first time in the assembly’s history, attendees, including Xi, had to dial in virtually. Xi made no acknowledgement of the Chinese government’s role in causing the COVID-19 pandemic, nor was there any meaningful apology. Instead, he painted China as a benign force for good and a friend to all nations. Except Taiwan, of course. The address was a reheated version of the speech Xi gave at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Xi again attempted to step into the
The World Health Assembly (WHA) held its annual meeting this week; Taiwan was still not represented. Its journalists were also barred from covering the online-only proceedings, despite the nation’s clearly demonstrated pandemic expertise that has set an example for the world. When the SARS epidemic reached Taiwan from southern China in 2003, dozens of lives were lost, but its health experts learned the importance of general testing, masks, technology to locate infected persons, swift decisions and quarantines. The lessons were applied immediately across Taiwan when COVID-19 arrived this year. From 2009 to 2016, Taiwan participated as an observer in the assembly under