It's time to go after vandals with a heavy hand

Wan Lixin
Vandals who damage public property must be detained and punished to discourage future occurrences.
Wan Lixin

A man recently vandalized a metro train with a sprayer on Metro Line 11, leading to the cancellation of the trip and the train being moved back to the maintenance facility.

The incident happened at 9:50am on February 25 when a man in a black hoodie began to spray an orange substance onto the interior of the train. The foul smell led to an emergency warning urging passengers to disembark.

The train returned to the yard to have the graffiti removed.

Pending a police investigation, the case could be safely moralized from several perspectives.

Although graffiti is properly defined as "rude, humorous, or political writing and pictures on the walls of buildings, trains, etc," and the subway seems to be a fair target (as evidenced in such illustrations as those randomly gleaned from my dictionaries: "The subway was covered in graffiti," and "a graffiti-defaced subway train"), an exception should be made for Shanghai, where even well-traveled expats marvel at the intricate metro network served by well-illuminated and immaculately maintained trains and stations.

Apparently, a mere impulse to execute good graffiti is clearly insufficient for someone to daub on such a gleaming surface. Any offender would also necessarily be emboldened by a fair degree of callousness and ruthlessness to vandalize or commit a crime.

If this was part of the original intention, the offender has been successful.

"The clownish pranks derailed our daily itinerary," a netizen complained. "Can you imagine how much time they have at their disposal to cause such inanity?" "How did they get these flammables onto the train?" wondered others.

The call for harsh punishment was loud and clear.

"They should be dealt with according to the law," said one, with which I totally agree.

But if history is any clue, I doubt the offender would pay in full measure.

On April 22, 2019, two men were guilty of a similar offense on Metro Line 17. It reportedly took eight metro workers nearly 10 hours to have the paint removed.

The culprits, a college student and a newly employed worker, were asked to pay a fine of 50 yuan (US$7) and 7,000 yuan for cleaning expenses. Since they were unable to pay the fine, the authorities agreed that they would put in 40 hours of volunteer work at the metro station in lieu of the fine.

One interesting thing about the 2019 act was that while vandalizing, the two videotaped their deed.

It would be naive to believe that an indifferently raised adult, let alone a college student, is unaware that graffiti on a metro train is a violation of propriety and will result in punishment.

But they also knew that in the amoral cacophony of cyberspace, notoriety can be as profitable as prestige.

So we must come up with punishments that effectively discourage future occurrences.

Thus, in a way, I am sympathetic to such comments, as voiced by some netizens, to the effect that the offenders must be detained for endangering public safety, given the obnoxious smell.

Another comment suggested that 40 hours of volunteer work in lieu of a fine of 7,000 yuan would mean an hourly wage of 175, which is way higher than the going rates.

Since the service disruption also affected passengers, it would be a good idea to have them compensated as well.

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