Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Big Trouble in Little India

10 Dec 2013

Excerpt from TODAY

The riot was triggered by a traffic accident in which Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, died after he was hit by a private bus.

Police investigations showed that an inebriated Sakthivel had boarded the bus, which was ferrying workers from Tekka Lane to their Avery Lodge dormitory in Jalan Papan. After noticing that Sakthivel was causing trouble on board — the construction worker had allegedly dropped his trousers at one point — the bus driver asked his assistant, who was helping to ensure the bus ran on schedule, to get the man off the bus.

Sakthivel alighted and the bus moved off. While it was turning into Race Course Road, the driver heard a thud on the side of the bus.

Sakthivel had been knocked down and was caught beneath the bus’ left rear tyre. It was not clear whether the driver got off the bus at this point or who called the police.

[Update 10 Dec (edited): One account added that Sakthivel was leaning unsteadily against the side of the bus and/or running beside the bus, when he fell or was knocked down by the bus, and run over by left rear wheel.

"Investigators had apparently retrieved the footage from a camera in the bus that allegedly ran over and killed Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu at the junction of Tekka Lane and Race Course Road.
The 33-year-old was said to have tried to board the bus that was there to ferry workers back to their dormitories. But when he was told to get off because it was full, he dropped his trousers before doing so.
The police could not provide more details on the video but The Straits Times understands that the footage showed Mr Sakthivel running after the bus in an unsteady manner as it was moving off, then stumbling and falling into the path of its rear tyre before he was run over."]

At around 9.40pm, about 17 minutes after receiving a call for assistance, the police and the SCDF first responders arrived at the scene where a “boisterous” crowd of male South Asians had gathered, the police said.

[Update 10/12: A YouTube Video from a resident of the area showed more than 5 emergency response vehicles stopped some distance (less than 50 m) behind the private bus. However, in the video, the police cars which were in front were just flashing their lights. Perhaps they hoped that their mere presence would scare off the rioters? In any case, it didn't work. At 2:55 of the video, the mob starts to swarm the police cars. At about 4:00 they succeed in turning a police car on its side. A loud cheer (from the mob) goes out. The overturned police car clears the road and one ambulance takes advantage of the gap and pulls away at 4:25 of the video. Seconds later, the second police car is turned on its side. At about 6:10, a fire could be seen, which may have been an attempt to set fire to one or both of the overturned police cars. At 6:45, the fire engine crew had enough and the driver reversed (running into one or two police cars) before making good it's escape. At about 7:40 the mob turns towards a 3rd police car. At about 9:05 the mob almost manages to overturn the 3rd car, but is thwarted when the driver of the 3rd car reverses and throws off the mob's leverage. It manages to stay upright by the end of the video.

Update 11/12: From the timeline released by the SPF (below), the events as recorded in the YouTube video may have occurred between 2211 and 2230 - after the bus driver and assistant had been escorted to an ambulance. Possibly, the body of Sakthivel may also have been extricated by then, and was in one of the ambulance as well.]

Outlining the sequence of events, the police said the crowd first pelted rescuers with objects and then started punching the bus assistant, a 38-year-old woman. The police and SCDF officers had to rescue the assistant and bus driver who had locked themselves in the bus. The crowd continued hitting the bus with items such as bottles, stones, dustbins, rods and concrete slabs.

The police’s Special Operations Command (SOC) arrived [2230hrs, based on timeline below] half an hour after they had been activated. The police said the delay was because Hampshire Road was congested with buses picking up foreign workers. SOC officers had to alight and proceed on foot. By 11.30pm, the situation was brought under control.


The riot was quelled and no shots were fired by enforcement officers.

Explaining the rules of engagement, the police said officers are permitted to draw their firearms where there is a direct and imminent threat to their lives or personal safety.

In this instance, the officers were “very restrained” as they did not want to escalate the situation. They were focused on dispersing the crowd, the police said. It added that while officers could have fired warning shots, they decided against doing so as such a tactic might have backfired with an alcohol-fuelled mob that was unable to think rationally.

Injuries to police officers were sustained from objects thrown at them. The police said the crowd was purposely attacking uniformed personnel. It noted how a commander in plain-clothes was only pelted by the mob when he was speaking to uniformed officers, but not when he was on his own.

Speaking on Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point programme last night, Tanglin Police Division Commander Lu Yeow Lim said the police was “perturbed” by how the crowd had attacked rescuers who were extricating Sakthivel’s body. “It appeared ... that they were targeting people in uniform, whether it was the SCDF uniform or the police uniform.”

When the police officers used shields to protect themselves, this “somehow angered” the crowd. “We are hoping at the end of the investigation we will determine the root cause of this,” he said.


Mr Bernard Menon, Executive Director of Migrant Workers Centre, noted that workers from some parts of South Asia might be scarred by “how they were treated back home and that could have also sparked a reaction when the (police officers’) shields went up”.

[Comment: There is a lot of speculation about the cause of the riot and how it might have been prevented, and whose fault is it anyway. The best anyone can do is speculate. Even Alex Au with his experience (in TWC, working with foreign workers issues) can only provide an educated, informed speculation.

And certainly, armchair strategists and tacticians can and will suggest how the Police could have done things better, could have anticipated things better, and could have responded better. Or how the Special Operation Command (SOC) could have better responded. All will be speculation.

The fact is, the police shot a total of zero persons. They fired a total of zero shots. When they were well justified to do so. I do not know if they are ordered to restrain themselves (by their Control or Operations Command), or they elected on their own, not to do so. And if so, was it humanism, empathy, force of habit or stupidity that caused them not to act.

I do not know. Only they know for now. And maybe their commanders. Or at best their commanders know only what they chose to tell their commanders. So only they know why they did what they did. Or did not do.

Nevertheless, the outcome was a better one, I believe,  than if they had shot anyone. Even a warning shot might well have triggered off a whole volley of shots. So it was a bad situation, but the restraint shown by the police on the ground speaks to a discipline, and an approach to policing, that is commendable.]

[Update 11/12: The best explanation offered so far as to how the riot started, is that it is psychological baggage from their home countries. In their home, the police are ineffective, corrupted, brutal, and biased. And the police are instrumental to social injustice... over there. They "transferred" their anger onto our SPF. They made assumptions based on the experience they have had from their home country, and responded in a way that was more appropriate to their home country's circumstances.

They may have interpreted Police actions as trying to perpetuate an injustice, protect the guilty, or cover up a crime, and responded with a riot because that is what they have come to expect in their home country.

ST page on the Riot. ]

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