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London riots — Art Harun

AUG 10 — I have been rather sarcastically asked on Twitter such questions as, “you support freedom of assembly, you want Malaysians to riot like the Londoners?”. Another twitterati asked me, “Art, you support the riots in London?”.

Frankly, I am amused to my bone by such questions.

I am amused because the attempts at justifying the banning of public rallies in Malaysia by referring to the riotous behaviour of some others displays a certain degree of shallowness, if not lack of intelligence.

We all have freedom as human beings. There is no restriction on what we eat, for example. But eating without limitations, both in term of quantity and quality of the food, could harm our health. Do the majority of us eat until we harm ourselves? Granted, there are people who eat without a thought to their calorie intake; fat contents and the attendant harmful effects of the food. The point is there are also people who exercise their freedom to eat in a responsible manner.

So, may I ask, shall the State pass laws to restrict our freedom to eat just because some people eat until they die?

Think about it. Some people are simply yobs and thugs. These people did not rally or attend a demonstration as an exercise of their freedom to assemble. They are pursuing any valid and legal cause. They are just there to create trouble. Some are just there to loot. Some to look for a victim to rape. That’s the difference.

If anybody fails to see the difference, then I dare say he or she is blinkered and is all too eager to justify the unjustifiable by drawing a misconceived comparison.

The Tottenham riot apparently started from several peaceful rallies. Those rallies took place because the people wanted to show their anger against the police who had allegedly shot a guy by the name of Mark Duggan in a mini-cab. The police said he was a gangster and he shot at the police when he was stopped. So the police shot him dead.

The people got angry with the police and they started a peaceful rally.

We can surely learn a thing or two from this story.

Firstly, in modern democracies, police killings are frown upon by the society. In the US for example, there is an automatic inquiry into every case of discharge of arm or killing by the police. This is different from the inquest.

The function of the inquest is to determine how the deceased died. It makes findings of facts but not of guilt or the lack of it.

The inquiry however requires the officer to justify his or her shooting or killing.

Compare that to Malaysia. Our police kills even those who drive without licence! Those who panic upon seeing a road block and tried to evade it are also shot at sometimes. Once in a while, we would have news of the police shooting dead not one, but four or five people who are suspected rapists, robbers or gang members. In other cases our police would storm into houses and shoot even a pregnant lady. Those who drive off despite being asked to stop would be shot at without hesitation and any regard for the safety of the passengers in the vehicle. Normal and healthy people die in police custody. There was one who died frothing in his mouth.

I wouldn’t say that our police acts with impunity. But the fact is as members of the public, we do not have a clue whether all these shootings and killings could firstly, be avoided and secondly, are necessary. We do not even now whether there were several other options available to the police to apprehend all these suspected bad people and whether the police has availed themselves of all those options before opening fire and kill that person.

In the UK, obviously the public take these matters seriously. One guy is shot and it caused a riot!

How about here? Well, before the age if the internet, we wouldn’t even know about the killings. The newspaper and TV3 or RTM would set out the news with pictures of parangs and old pistols allegedly recovered from the deceased.

Thanks to the internet, nowadays we become more and more aware. The Aminul Rasyid killing is a case in point. He was only 14. His only offences were probably driving without a license; he did not stop after being ordered to do so and driving fast and recklessly while fleeing the police. He was killed!

In the UK, the whole government could have gone down if that had happened there. Over here, we just made noise. The police officer would be charged for some offences. Then we forget.

That proves something. We Malaysians are a peaceful lot. We are so tranquil that a foreigner would be hard press to know whether we are sleeping or in a coma or just plain dead. We don;t go out rioting for things like police killing. I don’t think we would go on a riot for anything, really.

With that kind of culture, could any reasonable person, such as the IGP or Home Minister conclude that any assembly of the people of Malaysia could turn into a riot?

Why then harass people assembling in some car parks holding some candles to support whatever cause or causes which they believe in? What is there in a rally to ask for something to which they are legally entitled?

The second point to note is this. The London riots do not exemplify the danger of freedom to assembly. It rather exemplifies the abject failure of their police force to control the crowd and to “read” the general feelings of anger permeating the air. That is their failure.

I have said it before and I will say it again. In a rally or peaceful assembly, the bounden duty of the police force is to ensure a peaceful, safe and orderly assembly. That is their duty. This, obviously, they failed to do in London.

Now, if the police are failures, would we punish the people by restricting their constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble?

If so, since our police has totally failed to arrest the acid splasher — who has, it seems, disappeared from everybody’s radar and is probably now laughing at all of us — shall we also ban everybody from walking on the streets in Bangsar and Brickfields?

You tell me.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.

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