Fri, May 23, 2014 - Page 3 News List

RAIL RAMPAGE: Netizens, experts lash out against rash judgements

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Netizens and academics are condemning what they see as a knee-jerk reaction and demonization of the suspect in Wednesday’s random knife attack, while medical experts raised concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for survivors.

The incident that left four people dead and 23 injured has aroused a wide array of emotions as the public strives to cope with the first indiscriminate killing in Taipei’s MRT system.

Yang Sol (楊索), a former reporter and an author, said on Facebook that the killer was in the first place identified by the media as a homeless person, since he was then believed to have boarded the train at Longshan Temple Station, where homeless people sometimes congregate.

Yang said media outlets failed to acknowledge their mistake, let alone apologize, after it became clear that the suspect was not homeless nor had he boarded at said station.

She also panned the Chinese-language China Times newspaper for making what she called superficial connections between the incident and the Losheng Youth Alliance, which on the same day staged a silent protest on MRT trains to publicize the crisis facing the Losheng Sanatorium and to request an open debate with Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) on the issue.

“The paper did this in order to intensify any social fury and make people shift their fear and disgust from the [suspected] killer to social activists, just because the two rode on the same kind of vehicle,” Yang said.

Meanwhile, the Taiwanese Society of Psychiatry denounced what it called “the thoughtless and convenient labeling [of the suspect as mentally ill],” while cautioning against the stigmatization of people who have mental illnesses and reminding the public that “there is a voice desperately calling for help behind every tragedy.”

“What I fear is that the media would again discuss the tragedy by demonizing and pathologizing [the suspect] without limit,” said Wu Yi-cheng (吳易澄), a psychiatrist and an executive committee member of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

“We have to refrain from making assumptions about the perpetrator being a person with mental illness in the first place,” Wu said.

“Psychology can certainly provide explanations for his motive, but that is still far from [diagnosing] mental illness,” Wu said. “Demonizing and pathologizing a case is actually the most irresponsible way to excuse a social problem.”

Chang Chih-cheng (張智程), a doctoral student studying in Japan, echoed Wu’s position about the incident being a “social — rather than individual — problem,” comparing this incident to a rash of indiscriminate killings in Japan that started in the 1990s, when most of the perpetrators were “young, desperate about their future or excluded from society.”

“The occurrence of indiscriminate killing in a society shows that the social structure is now facing an extremely serious problem. And the state cannot solve it, if capital punishment is its only answer,” he said.

One clinical psychologist said that any one who takes theMRT is at risk of PTSD and should be attentive to symptoms such as re-experiencing the traumatic event, increased anxiety or avoiding the transit system.

Another doctor also called on the media to cease playing relevant videos or publishing photos, lest fear and trauma spread.

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