Little India COI: Inquiry or Witch-hunt

The reports of the latest session of the COI into the riot in Little India made for a riveting read. By now, we have all read bits and pieces from the four hour session between DAC Lu Yeow Lim and the COI regarding what happened on the ground that fateful evening.

The media all carried very prominent reports of the “grilling” he received, how his decisions – from deciding to “hold the line” and wait for the SOC, to prioritising human lives over damage to police cars, and rushing down to the scene of the riot in his civilian clothes instead of uniform.

The ride started when the COI started with the assurance that they were not here to fix, prosecute, persecute or destroy anyone. I am sure Lu, after the shelling he received, would have thought the contrary.

To put things in perspective, that is much longer than the time it took to quell the riot in Little India. Was it a fact-finding inquiry? I ask this because it came across otherwise. that the COI had decided that it did not agree with DAC Lu’s decisions and perhaps, that they did not like him – be it his dressing, conduct or virtually anything else that he said or did.

The COI may be minded to know that even those accused of committing a crime are accorded due courtesy and dignity; after all, they are innocent until proven guilty.

In the case of Lu, he neither committed a crime nor is accused of one. What he did was to assume control of a serious public incident and working in tandem with his colleagues from the SOC and other departments, helped to bring the riot under control with minimal casualties and most importantly, zero fatalities and no escalation nor spread of the riot into other parts of the country.

DAC Scott Arul himself said that Frontline police officers would have been taking a “huge risk” if they had engaged the crowd prior to the arrival of the police’s Special Operations Command (SOC), said its deputy commander Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) David Scott Arul at the hearing into the Dec 8 riot today (March 5)

“Many of the regular police that DAC Arul saw on the ground during the Dec 8 riot were unprotected – with some even in plainclothes. They were also outnumbered, and lacked the anti-riot training and tools such as tear gas to disperse the rioters. For these reasons, engaging the rioters head on would have been very risky for them, he explained. “I am of the view that there would have been a risk to these officers… just simply (because of) their numbers,” said DAC Arul, the deputy commander of the SOC.”

He added that the one SOC trooper injured that night was dealt “a deliberate, targeted blow”, and that 37 police officers had been injured, even without confronting the rioters head on. “(If rioters) succeeded in taking down an officer… I can envision the crowd then surging forward and being emboldened,” he said. “I fear that if they (the police) had engaged the crowd, we would have seen greater injuries, more severe injuries.”

In the end, despite the inappropriate comment made by Tee Tua Ba, “You made the problem worse!”, would you not agree that it was not a bad outcome. Zero lives lost. Sure, he may have improved on some things. He could have made himself more prominently as the chief commander on the ground. Or as the COI might have preferred, gone on a walkabout, fired some warning shots, charged at the “active” rioters – basically do everything differently.

What if he did exactly as the COI had imagined that he could, and we had an escalation of the violence, with shots fired, people killed and rampaging mobs breaking out across foreign worker dormitories?

“Properties were damaged, and money was lost but these are things we can buy. If a life had been lost, no amount of money would have brought him back.” However, committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam disagreed. “That is not the philosophy of riot control. The loss of human life was not a priority, not on that day, in the circumstances of everything that had happened.”

I would imagine then that the COI would be asking quite different questions – why did you decide to charge instead of waiting for back-up? Funny thing, this phenomenon called hindsight. Or is it just my imagination?

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