Innocent must be protected at all cost

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 May, 2010, 12:00am

A spate of deadly attacks against young children in mainland schools has shocked the nation. It shocks the senses and defies imagination that anyone would take out their rage and frustration by deliberately harming the most innocent and vulnerable members of society. Few crimes are as heinous as this one. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims. We hope they have the strength to endure and triumph over what is clearly too much to bear for any parent.

The attacks that followed each other so closely indicate the possibility of copycat crimes. Schools for rich and poor families have been targeted; perpetrators included the unemployed, farmers and a doctor. There does not seem to be any clear pattern behind the crimes. The only undisputed commonalities are their viciousness and evil nature. A man may have been treated badly, suffered a profound injustice or disappointment. Still, nothing can justify attacking the young and innocent. At least one of the attackers has a history of mental illness.

In the latest incident, seven children were hacked to death and at least 20 others were wounded at a kindergarten in Shanxi before the 48-year-old murderer committed suicide. It followed at least five other deadly knife attacks at schools since late March. Schools across the mainland have taken precautions by hiring more security guards, giving self-defence instructions to teachers and students, and deploying more police officers to patrol school districts. These are sensible measures; it remains to be seen whether they will be sufficient to prevent or deter future attacks.

Similar violence has existed in other countries. Repeat incidents of heavily armed youngsters who went on a rampage at their schools in the US traumatised the country and turned many schools into fortresses. What is perhaps worse on the mainland is that instead of students taking on their own peers and teachers, the perpetrators were adults preying on defenceless children. Such horrible events inevitably force people to ask what has gone wrong. Clearly, they are signs of a deep social malaise; and soul-searching questions need to be raised about the state of mainland society. Experts have offered plausible theories and explanations. Pundits and critics with an ideological axe to grind have used the incidents to voice their favourite criticisms.

One popular explanation has been that the attackers were venting their anger at those more privileged than they by harming what is most precious to them - their children. In a similar vein, profound inequities and the widening wealth gap have been blamed as motivating factors. That may or may not be true. But the irony is that the widely different responses of schools that cater to rich families and those for the less well off have only highlighted those inequities.

Schools with resources have turned themselves into fortresses with new hi-tech security systems and extra guards. Many schools in rural areas have to accept whatever extra services are offered by the local police force. Authorities must make sure every school receives the support and security they need.

Without doubt, mainland society is undergoing unprecedented transformations; many people have experienced social traumas, dislocations and deep alienation. But that does not explain why a small number of individuals decided to lash out at society in the most violent and evil manner possible. Such evil is, at the root, unexplainable. We can only do what we must to help the victims and protect those at risk.