The premiere screenings of 4Kings (Part 2), a local drama-action film that depicts violent scuffles among vocational school students, attracted a big police presence.
The Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) yesterday deployed throngs of police to guard two movie theatres in Bang Kapi and Lat Phrao, where police expect vocational students from various institutes to turn up en masse.
Three years ago, vocational students in Kalasin province fought at the car park of a department store after watching 4Kings Part 1.
The 4Kings franchise has become a cult movie for many such students. Based on real events, the movie depicts the fatal brawls and the violent culture of vocational students during the 90s.
The film (the first part won several awards and rave reviews) also burnishes the stereotype that vocational students are a menace to society.
This week, the MPB has also been instructed to check student ID cards, record clips of any suspicious acts, and intervene when there are signs of commotion.
This follows two cases of recent fatal shootings related to students from vocational schools. One brawl resulted in the death of a bystander, a 43-year-old teacher at a school in Klong Toey who was accidentally shot.
The intended target of the shooting, a 19-year-old student, was severely wounded and died later in hospital.
The police probe of the Klong Toey shooting unveiled shocking details. Students who had dropped out or been expelled from vocational colleges formed a gang to pursue revenge against rival institutes.
The MPB's investigation branded the gang as a form of organised crime. Gang members are recruited by their former seniors.
Members train new recruits to kill, raise funds, provide firearms and even offer legal services to help those arrested by police. This crime syndicate, as it was termed, had at least 84 members.
The question is whether cautionary tales in movies like 4Kings or a police stakeout at theatres can solve the problem at a fundamental level.
According to a Suan Dusit Poll last week, 74% of respondents believe police can deter the problem by arresting rogue youths, 73% believe schools, alumni and seniors can help replace hatred with a constructive new culture and build ties of friendship between rival schools.
Some 72% of respondents want the Ministry of Education to make improving vocational schools a national agenda item.
That said, everyone in society needs to work together to help change attitudes. Executives of vocational schools and policymakers in the government have been absent. The media paints a bad image of vocational students by generalising about arrested suspects.
Consistent, constructive campaigns are needed to promote better relations among students at various institutes, and the media could publish positive news about these places instead of focusing on fights.
Indeed, there are some positive stories to be found about these skilled students -- such as those from traditional rivals, the Rajamangala University of Technology Tawan-ok, Uthenthawai campus, and Pathumwan Institute of Technology in Pathumwan, competing to fix and upgrade electricity for communities in the Samyan area. This feel-good news rarely makes the news.
Policymakers and society as a whole need to help these young people reach their full potential. To do so, they need to do more than vilify or arrest them.