So what do we know about what happened that night in Little India?
Here’s a summary: Some South Asians, who can number up to 100,000 in Little India on weekends, especially after pay-day, got worked up after a private bus rolled over one of their compatriots. Most were already tanked up on liquor and some fellows put out word that their compatriot had been pushed out of the bus. When uniformed officers turned up, the crowd thought they seemed more intent on protecting the bus driver and ticket collector than rescuing the man, who was already dead although some of them thought not. They got angry and started rioting.
The COI thoughtfully provided what it thought the riot was NOT about as well. Nope, not due to any sort of deep-seated resentment about working conditions or pay, as some people have alleged although more can be done about educating foreign workers about their rights, especially when they don’t get paid or get injured. The COI even did an NWC and recommended pay increases every year.
As for the role played by alcohol and how people had argued that if alcohol was the cause, then there would riots in other drinking holes such as Boat Quay. The COI said alcohol was a “contributory’’ cause, not a primary cause. It doesn’t want an islandwide ban but did suggest banning drinking in extremely public places like playgrounds and walkways. It also said something interesting about the Miscellaneous Offences Act. Particularly this section: Any person who is found drunk and incapable of taking care of himself, in any public road or in any public place or place of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of any court or of any public office or police station or place of worship, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.
The COI actually raised this a few times during its inquiry, asking for more checks to be done on this part of the law. Now, apparently it seems that the police don’t pay much attention to this because their main objective is to deter crime and they don’t have enough manpower. Must be. Or they would have given statistics to say this part of the law was enforced. (I wonder if they even know that such people can be arrested? More likely, the drunks just get “shifted’’ elsewhere. How many times have you come across video or pictures of drunks sprawled in MRT cabins or at void decks?) It seems to me that rather than come up with strict regulations on alcohol sale and drinking, a short, concerted campaign by the police to throw drunks in the brink could work better much like drink driving raids.
The COI’s other recommendations focused on cutting red tape (which the cops did quickly) and improving communications, like having a dedicated line for key officers that won’t be jammed up. But it looks like they gave up on recommending the lathi, the stick used by Indian police. Nothing was said about equipment nor armour although it said it was “not desirable’’ for policemen to do duty in civvies, as a few of the top cops did. I suppose the idea was to bolster police PRESENCE so that the crowd will melt away at the sight.
The ground commander DAC Lu Yeow Lim came in for the most criticism, especially for holding the ground when he should be running around to ascertain the presence of his men. Not right for him to go by the book it seems and wait for the SOC to arrive in overwhelming numbers before taking action. I suppose the infantry must charge in when the calvary has yet to arrive because standing still would merely “embolden’’ the enemy.
The COI also said the police needed more manpower although it didn’t put a figure to it. (The Police Commissioner has said he needs 1,000 more cops.) It also didn’t delve into the role of auxillary police in crowd control.
So who looked good and who looked not-so-good in the report?
- ASP Jonathan Tang, who was here, there and everywhere, summoning for backup, herding people, shielding emergency officers, picking up the injured and looking for stray cops. Give the man a medal!
- LTA Tiffany Neo of the SCDF, who got the dead man into the ambulance and shielded the bus driver to safety while being pelted. Give the gal a medal!
- Traffic Police officer Sgt Fadli Shaifuddin Mohamed Sani, and APO PC Srisivangkar Subramaniam who attempted to either charge at groups of rioters or detain them.
- The Good Samaritans, especially the burly South Asian in checked shirt who got the bus driver and ticket collector on the bus when they were going to be set upon by the crowd. His identity still unknown although someone else did try to con the media into thinking he was the hero…
- Generally, the first responders were lauded for doing their duty despite the threatening crowd.
Looking not so good
- DAC Lu Yeow Lim, who was grilled for four hours by the COI, for his decision to “hold positions’’ while waiting for the SOC to arrive and his lack of initiative (my words) in checking how many men were on the ground.
- The two South Asians who clambered into the bus and started hammering the woman ticket collector. They caused the bus to jerk when the SCDF was trying to extricate the body. I wonder if they were among the men arrested or repatriated.
- The entire communications infrastructure of the police. Jammed radio lines which meant no one could reach anyone and no single command post.
- The reporting structure of the police, with its levels of checks and briefings and who must be alerted when anything happens etc before something moves. In this case, the deployment of the SOC.
- SCDF command for pulling out its team from the area after the “extrication’’ when they should have stayed behind.
- Employers who try to send their workers home without salary or compensating them for injury. This is an offshoot of the COI report when it concluded that working conditions were not to be blamed for the riot but other aspects of employment could be improved.
- Not forgetting the people who took part in the riot, who threw stones and damaged police cars. Pity there weren’t more arrests, especially of those who did physical damage and not just those silly enough not to disperse when SOC arrived…
So what’s next? Seems like the G will say something in Parliament on Monday in response to the COI. I’m sure the Home ministry has been busy cutting red tape, adding cameras and buying all sorts of technology for the cops and we’ll hear all about it on Monday.
I’m hoping that the G will give the cops more men and women as well. At the end of the day, it’s people who make a difference.