Understanding random violenceA series of incidents of random violence has erupted in the last week, on a subway platform in Uijeongbu, a bar in Suwon, and a street on Yeouido near the heavily guarded National Assembly building in broad daylight. Citizens are growing panicky hearing about random killing sprees of the sort they have only seen on the international news from distant countries. The crimes are mostly motivated by extreme desperation and rage. The suspects who stabbed strangers said they wanted to kill anyone out of frustration with their dead-end lives. They mostly were jobless, homeless or family-less.
Bad habits spread easily. Japan grappled with similar social problems years back. Random violent incidents and street murders were reported regularly around 2008. So-called self-exiled and self-imposed outcast young adults, hikikomori, became a phenomenon, causing various social problems and crimes. One unemployed 20-something man went on a killing spree on a street of Tokyo, killing eight passersby. Another stepped onto a bus and stabbed 11 students on their way to school. In Osaka, a man in his 30s killed two strangers on the street without any reason. Japan reported 74 incidents of random street killings over 10 years.
The Japanese phenomenon was fallout from Japan’s anaemic economy and deepening social inequality. Mass layoffs of irregular workers made people become loners prone to wayward violence. We find ourselves in a similar spot today. A majority of the population has lost hope of “moving ahead in society.” The rising unemployment of young people and increases in non-salaried jobs are exacerbating social inequalities. We should address random violence as a social illness rather than an individual crime.
We could take lessons from Japan. The Japanese gave death sentences to random killers to rein in similar crimes. At the same time, authorities expanded consulting and training services to hikikomori types while keeping close watch on those with violent behavior. Schools, families and communities chipped in to restore a sense of communal unity.
We cannot entirely rely on law enforcement authorities. Public consulting and training programs should be accessible to help isolated people re-engage in society. Many people who resort to random violence complain of loneliness and pain before they commit crimes. There are many living in the shadows. We have to help them come out.