Between a rock and a hard place
Hurling rocks at moving cars might not seem like the best way to win friends and influence people, but for 13-year-old Boy, it was the only way he knew to fit in.
- Published: 12/05/2013 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
VICTIMLESS CRIME?: Three youths charged with throwing a rock at a truck in Ayutthaya’s Nakhon Luang district in 2009 take part in a police re-enactment. The truck driver was blinded for life by the attack.
"I never meant to hurt anyone," he said. "I just wanted to be accepted as part of the group."
Along with racing modified motorbikes and fighting over girls, throwing rocks from pedestrian bridges on to passing cars has once again become the pastime of choice for members of Thailand's youth gangs.
"When we get bored we do all sorts of crazy stuff," Boy said. "Whoever does the craziest thing gets to be the leader of the gang for a day."
There are four kids in Boy's gang and the rock throwing began just before Songkran, he said. "My friend suggested that we try to throw stones onto the beds of pickup trucks as they went under the bridge. We made sure we didn't aim for the windscreen, we just wanted to see who had the best throw," the teenager said.
Boy said the gang started with small stones, but found them hard to control, so they progressed to larger rocks with more heft and better aerodynamics.
"We were having fun until one of the rocks missed the truck and hit the bonnet of the car behind," he said.
PAYING THE PRICE: A car owner in Chachoengsao points to the damage to his vehicle after a youth threw a rock through its windscreen in 2009. A 19-year-old man was later arrested for the crime.
"When the driver stopped the car to check for damage, we ran away."
BACK IN FASHION
Rock throwing as a "pastime" has been around since the start of 2009, with the earliest reports coming from upcountry provinces such as Ayutthaya, Suphan Buri, Nakhon Ratchasima and Chon Buri. By the end of that year, however, thanks mostly to increased police patrols, the activity had all but died out.
That was until recently.
On Tuesday, a 25-year-old man was arrested for throwing rocks at cars from a pedestrian bridge in Nonthaburi. A day earlier, a man was witnessed throwing stones on to vehicles from a bridge on Charoen Nakhon Road in Bangkok. Police from Samrae Police Station were alerted to the incident, but the man evaded capture.
Officers did, however, retrieve several rocks from the bridge, including a paving slab weighing about two kilogrammes.
According to Jaitana Sriwangpol, an executive at FM91, a traffic report radio station and part of the Communication Command division of the Royal Thai Police, the latest wave of rock throwing began in Bangkok in February.
The first reports _ one at Vibhavadi Rangsit Road Soi 11 and a second at the Laksi intersection _ came from two taxi drivers, Ms Jaitana told Spectrum.
In both cases, witnesses said they saw a man drop the rocks from a bridge before riding off on a motorbike that didn't have a licence plate.
Two more reports came in March, and then on April 9, the mystery man on the motorcycle was again named as the culprit by the driver of a pickup truck whose vehicle was hit by a rock thrown from a bridge on Pracha Songkhro Road.
One of the most serious incidents happened on April 23, Ms Jaitana said, when a large rock shattered the windscreen of a pickup truck. The incident occurred under Jaturatis Bridge on Asok-Din Daeng Road close to the Rama 9 intersection, she said.
Since then, several more incidents have been reported, though it has been difficult to establish any pattern or modus operandi, Ms Jaitana said.
BANG TO RIGHTS: Police quiz a teenager arrested for throwing rocks at vehicles, including a police car, on Phahon Yothin Road in Bang Pa-in district in July of last year.
''There's no rhyme or reason to the attacks,'' she said. ''We really don't know what makes people do it.''
According to Pol Lt Col Anchulee Theerawongpaisal, a child psychiatrist at the Police General Hospital, there are many reasons for young people behaving in this way.
''There are three causes of children acting aggressively,'' Pol Lt Col Anchulee said.
''In some cases, the problem stems from a psychological disorder experienced by the child and which causes stress. This might be an attention deficit disorder or a low IQ, or even a drug problem,'' she said.
''Secondly, the actions of the child might be rooted in a problem at home. Most of the troubled children I have dealt with have come from broken or dysfunctional families. Youngsters often replicate the violent or antisocial behaviour of their parents.''
The third contributor to youth delinquency is society itself, Pol Lt Col Anchulee said. ''Children are heavily influenced by their peers, the media and, increasingly these days, online social networks. They witness things happening and seek to imitate that behaviour,'' she said.
In recent months, Pol Lt Col Anchulee has been using her expertise to help police deal with a similar outbreak of rock throwing in Samut Prakan province.
In April, police from Samut Prakan's Muang district arrested a gang of teenagers that had been caught on CCTV throwing rocks weighing up to one kilogramme through the windscreens of parked cars and trucks. All of the attacks were carried out by youngsters on motorbikes, though no one was injured.
''The incidents were not as serious as some of those reported in other areas, but there were a lot of them, so we needed to take action,'' Pol Col Pullop Aramhla, superintendent of Muang district police, told Spectrum.
''After scrutinising footage from the security cameras we noticed that whenever there was an incident, the same four motorcycles were always in the area. Using that as a starting point we were able to round up all of the gang members,'' he said.
''In total, we arrested eight boys and a girl aged between 13 and 17. They are all high school students in Samut Prakan and live in the same neighbourhood. During the school holidays they hang out together,'' he said.
Pol Col Pullop said he interviewed each of the youngsters to try and find out why they had behaved as they did.
''They all answered in the same way,'' he said. ''They didn't want to steal anything or hurt anyone; they just wanted to be accepted by their friends and to show that they were good at something.''
Pol Lt Col Anchulee said the youngsters' responses were typical.
''As teenagers go through the process of changing from children to adults they form strong attachments to their peers. They do what their friends do because they believe it to be right,'' she said.
The problem, however, is that in their quest for acceptance they are prepared to do almost anything.
In the case of the Samut Prakan gang, Pol Lt Col Anchulee said the children acted en masse.
''They did bad things because of peer pressure, she said. ''Several of the youngsters were convinced they had done nothing wrong, while others admitted they acted with a sense of impunity, knowing that their rich and powerful parents would bail them out if they found themselves in trouble.''
As part of her work in Samut Prakan Pol Lt Col Anchulee became involved in a programme devised by Samut Prakan Muang district police to train officers in how to deal with errant teenagers.
''Once I heard about the project, I knew it was a great idea and I was happy to volunteer for it,'' she said.
''As part of the course I have shown the officers how to befriend kids and how to win their trust. I also told them that they have to maintain regular contact with the youngsters, and that on the first few visits they should leave their guns at home or at the station,'' she said.
''The most important thing is to make the kids see their own value. By doing that, we can show that they can be accepted in society without having to resort to violent or criminal acts. In turn, the police officers encourage them to do good things instead.''
TERRIFYING TREND: Many of the young people arrested for throwing rocks at cars say they have no intention of hurting anyone, but their acts can be terrifying for drivers and costly for the vehicles’ owners.
As juveniles, the Samut Prakan gang escaped the highest possible penalties for their crimes.
''If they had been adults, they would each have been facing six months in jail and/or a 30,000 baht fine,'' Pol Col Pullop said.
Because they were under 18, the gang members served time in a juvenile detention centre, though they have all since been released, he said.
The problem with locking children up is that it doesn't offer a permanent solution, he said.
''Putting children in prison is treating the symptom, not the cause,'' he said.
That was why his team devised the training programme to help officers build relationships with potential young offenders.
''I knew we had to get to the core of the problem,'' Pol Col Pullop said.
The team started by asking permission from the children's parents to befriend the youngsters.
''Once we had that agreement, we arranged for officers to visit each of the kids on a daily basis. This wasn't just so we could monitor them, but rather it allowed us to better understand their lives and to try and find out what motivates them.''
Pol Col Pullop said it was vital his officers were trained by Pol Lt Col Anchulee in how to talk to the youngsters.
''It's really important that we communicate effectively with the kids, as we don't want any of them to go back to their old ways and end up in jail.''
The officers see themselves as mentors, like teachers and friends, and are prepared to ''talk about anything at all'', he said.
''Most of all, we want them to be proud of themselves for doing good things. If they can learn to love themselves like that, there won't be any problems in the future.''
Although the scheme was launched less than a month ago, close to 200 children are now involved in it, and its reach spans the whole of Provincial Police Region 1, encompassing Samut Prakan, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, Sing Buri, Chai Nat, Lop Buri, and Saraburi, he said.
''The focus of the first phase is the rock throwing problem, but in the future we plan to expand the scheme to other areas, such as kids with drug addictions,'' he said.
Pol Lt Col Anchulee is full of praise for the project.
''Children who have strong minds and a strong sense of self have fewer problems in life,'' she said.
''And sometimes all a child needs to achieve that feeling of self-respect is to have an adult show them love, understanding and a little support.''
DANGEROUS GAME: Bus driver Somkid sae Tan shows the window smashed in a rock attack as he was travelling along Sukhumvit Road in Samut Prakan. The stone was thrown by a teenager on a motorcycle.
About the author
- Writer: Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai
- Position: Reporter