Taiwan entered a new world on Wednesday afternoon, a select grouping that no one voluntarily joins — cities that have suffered a mass attack on public transportation or a random killing spree. The stabbing attack that left four people dead and 23 injured has discombobulated many, even more so than the fear created by Yang Ju-men (楊儒門) and his year-long “rice-bomb” campaign that saw 17 bombs planted around Taipei beginning in November 2003.
Almost as disquieting has been the rush to judgement since Wednesday afternoon by legislators, city councilors, members of the public and some media outlets. There have been calls for a quick trial, for legal amendments to be urgently passed, vitriolic postings on the Internet and, more disturbingly, efforts to blame the attack on the recent student-led anti-government protests.
The first three are almost knee-jerk reactions to any multiple killing, but the fourth are incredibly cynical political attacks that are low even by Taiwanese standards and deserving of the strongest condemnation.
A Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmaker posted a call for legal reforms targeted specifically at “indiscriminate killings” with a headline that reads: “Die, random killers!” His argument is, of course, that imposing a mandatory death sentence on anyone convicted of “random, indiscriminate killing” would deter other such attacks, a fallacy that has not stopped such crimes in US states that still use capital punishment.
The New Taipei City Council on Thursday passed a resolution urging judicial authorities to make a “speedy ruling” on the 21-year-old suspect in the case, Cheng Chieh (鄭捷). Others have made similar calls, claiming that there is enough video footage and eyewitness testimony to convict the suspect.
Unfortunately, Taiwan has a history of grievous judicial errors — and at least one wrongful execution — triggered by mob cries for immediate vengeance in the wake of a murder, so it is disheartening to see that many people remain willing to jettison the legal rights of suspects without a thought for those whose guilt is less clear.
An editorial in the Chinese-language United Daily News yesterday tried to link legitimate social protests and murderous tendencies, although it was not the first, and will not be the last, to do so. While saying it is “unclear” if there is a connection between the Sunflower movement protests and Wednesday’s killings, the paper said that the suspect posted on Facebook last month that he “would do something big,” which was the same time as what it called “the peak of the [anti-government] mutiny.”
Mixing its apples and oranges, the paper said that if the “Sunflower movement is an indication of the young generation’s civil disobedience and attention to politics,” Wednesday’s “random killings expose the dangerous sociopathic tendencies and lack of conscience among young people.”
Former KMT legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) weighed in just hours after the slayings, saying the Sunflower movement had created “a society of lawlessness” that made it likelier for anti-social personalities to act.
This comes in the wake of earlier attempts by pan-blue supporters and others to discredit the Sunflower movement through the widespread use of the term “violent rioters” or comparing the occupation of the Legislative Yuan to al-Qaeda terrorist efforts.
Such biliousness is to be expected among the dinosaurs of Taiwan’s color-coded political divide, including some in the opposition, who in their desperation for a soundbite are quick to compare their opponents to Adolf Hitler, Nazis in general or Osama bin Laden when arguing about public policy or personalities. That does not make it acceptable.
Many questions have been raised by Wednesday’s tragedy. Time is needed to properly investigate the tragedy and for the nation to reflect upon what lessons can be learned from it. Judgement can wait.
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