The collective shock unfolding in Thailand in the aftermath of Nong Bua Lamphu mass shooting by a drug-addicted ex-cop which resulted in 38 deaths including the assailant, who committed suicide, led to much soul-searching but also kneejerk reactions.
Declare war on drugs? Done! The Ministry of Interior has done that on Friday, one day after the senseless killings which included 24 kindergarten-age boys and girls at a childcare center. What is this thing called the war on drugs, BTW?
The last time a war on drugs was officially declared during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration two decades ago, at least 2,500 people were extrajudicially killed.
The current government led by former junta leader Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha has yet to sanctioned extrajudicial killing but in the hours after the shooting on Thursday afternoon, some netizens are already advocating it as the only way to prevent future mass shootings.
“Eradicating drugs must become a national agenda,” wrote a Facebook user who is an army officer by the pen name of Phi Muad Tutor on Friday night. “Whether the person is a government official or not, both the dealer and user who pose a danger to society must be extrajudicially killed without exception. We shouldn’t be optimistic and let the users and sellers laugh with madness and continue to kill more innocent people.”
The hours after the killings also saw many broadcast media focusing on other cases of the “evil” of methamphetamine and its users who went berserk to harm others. On Friday, the first autopsy conducted on the mass shooter showed no traces of drugs. Earlier, national police chief Pol. Gen. Damrongsak Kittiprapas said its former-officer-cum-killer Panya Kamrob was stressed or may have taken drugs, however.
It is so convenient to simply declare a war on drugs and wish those drugs dealers and users be either imprisoned if not extrajudicially executed without looking at the big picture and asking ourselves hard questions such as why Panya turned into a monster taking the lives of many young children.
Why many end up using drugs to begin with and what role do systemic corruption within the police force, as well as the military, play in the massive flow of methamphetamine from Thailand’s neighbors particularly Myanmar? (One psychiatrist wrote on social media that the killer was taking a revenge on the society who turned him into what he became.)
Poverty, sense of hopelessness about the future for many poor people, systemic corruptions where many honest police officers have to turn a blind eye to their corrupt peers and superiors in order to simply survive and keep their career, these are but some of the factors making the challenge much more complex that merely declaring war for the enemy is within us, within and part of the very system that is Thai society and not just evil and selfish few individuals that can simply be isolated and ‘eradicated.’
One might ask how the mass shooter managed to be employed for so long before he was fired earlier this year?
Other complex challenges include how to ensure a better mental healthcare system that can cater to people who are very stressed before they are on the verge of committing senseless killings.
In Thailand, seeing a psychiatrist is both very costly and comes with a big stigma where one is almost judged by others as mad or mentally ill if they are known to have received help from a psychiatrist, while traditional systems that heal the mind such as Buddhism are becoming less and less attractive to younger Thais.
Many police officers, for example, are under tremendous stress and need proper care and regular psychological monitoring. And I am not just talking about the corrupt ones.
Then there is gun control and the need for a stricter law although it would not be easy because both the army and police forces are very trigger-happy bunch of people and the black market also make it accessible.
Declaring war on drugs is easy. Knee jerk reaction is tempting if not automatic, particularly when a pill of meth is now just 10 baht, cheaper than a can of Coke (the legal beverage that is).
Calling for extrajudicial execution of others may fulfill your thirst for instant gratification but proceeding without respect for human rights, due process and understanding of the mammoth systemic challenge facing Thai society will likely bring about more deaths and carnage and not the less.
This is not just about evil people but a rotten system that needs a comprehensive overhaul. We cannot solve the problems if we start with a knee jerk reaction.