What If The Police Had Used Force

444

By Gaurav Sharma

The Little India riots of last Sunday have sparked much debate  about the role of the Singapore Police Force and its decision not to  use undue force, service revolvers and anti-riot equipment such as the tear gas  to quell the violent mob.

So much so that the police had to clarify the  position on its Facebook page yesterday. “Police officers displayed maximum restraint and  did not fire any weapon throughout the incident. This also prevented the  incident from escalating further,” it said.

Minister S  Iswaran said explained on TV last night: “Use of force to calm a riot  situation is a double-edged sword. While some would argue that it might have  helped in controlling the situation much earlier, the counter-point can always  be that it would have lead to further loss of property and even lives. Thus,  what to do is a decision that had to be taken by the officers on the ground and  I am sure the police took the right call.”

And if  past experiences of similar such incidents around the world are anything to go  by, the law agencies in Singapore did the right thing.

Internationally,  what happened during the Arab Spring in the last three years and during the  riots seen early this year by one of the most peace-loving nations in the world,  Sweden, are a proof of that.

The riot  in Little India was essentially a rampage, an impulsive reaction, by an angry  mob on seeing one of their colleagues being crushed to death by a private  bus.

As Lu Yeow Lim, commander of Tanglin Police Division, elaborated on TV  yesterday: “When the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the initial lot of  police personnel arrived at the scene, the gathered crowd was not violent. It’s  just when our people moved to extricate the deceased’s body from below the  vehicle, the mob turned violent.”

The  police told the media yesterday that even during the riot, the mob while  using metal rods and cement blocks to damage the vehicles on the scene, was only  hurling projectiles at the officers. Since no close-range weapons were  used, there was no “imminent danger” to its officers, the spokesperson  added.

Imagine  what would have happened if police had used firearms to disperse the crowd  and some more lives were lost.

Chances  are this would have angered the mob even further and the commotion would have  spread to the neighbouring Serangoon and Buffalo Roads. My own experience of  covering riots and violent protests as a journalist in India substantiates this  theory.

What is  even more remarkable in this episode is that this restraint was shown by a  police force whose majority officers have not faced anything of this nature ever  before. It was almost four decades ago, during the infamous racial riots of  1969, that police in Singapore had to respond to such  lawlessness.

Sanity  demanded that instead of rioting and destroying public and private property,  people present at the scene of the accident should have called the police and  handed over the driver to them.

The law  would have taken its own course afterwards, including sentencing of the driver  and compensation for the victim.

Rather,  the story is now about rioting.

The mob  frenzy has pushed into background the fact that a life, probably of a sole  breadwinner from a poor family, was lost.

Let us not  forget this as we continue to debate the whys and hows of the  riot.