Wednesday, March 30, 2011


By Howl Pillai

There are always warning signs when bad things are going to happen.                                                       
Some 2 weeks ago there was one such ominous sign--direct, clear and unmistakable.It was reported in our leading newspapers that the Chief of Police of the far -flung province of Papua,Indonesia had had enough.He took a hard stand on what else but penis enlargements.Candidates who had resorted to this local ironman procedure would no longer be recruited into the police force. A sociologist in Jakarta explained that native males use the leaves of the "gatal-gatal" plant to form a holster of sorts to house their very personal arms. The aggravating environment does the rest. We must take note that in their society a puffed up ego means a heck of a lot. 

Clearly the Chief of Police was a hard man himself if not a genius. "Gatal-gatal  translates accurately to 'itchy-itchy' and it is a warning sign he did not miss. Not one to rest on his laurels he probed further. He was then able to put all the ominous signs together and see the danger : A puffed up ego,a dangerous loaded weapon and an aggravated environment are a potent mix.  Unfortunately, we here, failed to heed the warning signs that the Chief of Police there so ably deduced and reduced. 

A few days later, in a gentle, leafy and quiet residential suburb of Shah Alam a 14 year old unarmed kid was shot fatally by a policeman for 'impersonating a criminal'. The world over, tensions always rise dramatically when a police officer of one ethnic group uses deadly force on a suspect of another ethnicity. So the ensuing tension, hue and cry was rather puzzling. The deadly use of force this instance, for want of a new term, was a "same ethnicity shooting ". Again there were signs that something nasty like this was waiting to happen.                                                                                                  

For years now the most dangerous places for a Malaysian to be on is our world class roads and our police lockups. A close third- never be on a overnight Express bus. I suspect more people die needlessly in these places than anywhere else. And I do not want to splash cold water on anyone's hopes but if you are a suspect held under remand in a police station, your chances of coming out alive,unscathed and smelling of roses is as good as our ex-PM keeping his mouth shut for just a day. 

And Guantanamo is kids stuff. There they waterboard you; here you are just drowned  in your own spittle and then a report is made out that every attempt was made to save you from the pail of water you accidently fell into. If given a choice Kugan's mum would have happily agreed to send her son to the Carribean. After all it is better to be in Guantanamo than to be no-more .And again there were clear and unmistakable signs.

Suspected criminal after suspected criminal was dying in police custody the past many years. At first the gullible public suspected malnutrition if not self induced starvation. Others advocated a racial disposition to depression leading to suicide. And still others entertained the possibility of negligent food poisoning. Perhaps mango lassi served in lockups is 3 days old. Once a serving PM no less, even suggested the possibility that some of these detainees had punched themselves blue and black to gain the sympathy of their jailers or worse still to accuse them falsely and put them in trouble.

Neither the cabinet nor the minister responsible ever extended their regrets in such cases. I can well imagine an old and retired senior police officer say:" You don't set out or intend to use lethal force.You want to beat them to within an inch of their lifes. That to make them confess. A conviction based on forensic science  and detailed police work is time consuming and difficult. Susah ! Of course on certain days we get our measurements all wrong by an inch or so ". And there were still more signs.

In a blaze of publicity high ranking police officers visited the scene of the fatal shooting. Co-incidentally on the same day Goldman Sachs traders were being grilled and questioned by a US Congressional Select Comittee. And Jay Leno in his "Tonight Show" a few days later had this to say about the hearings ( or is it herrings ? ) in Congress: "See, I told you, criminals always return to the scene of the crime ".Meanwhile  high ranking police officers assured the public at large and the grief stricken mother that they would personally ensure investigations are properly carried out and there will be no cover up.

Accordingly  a Committee made up of the proverbial Tom, Dick and Dirty Harry was constituted to investigate Dirty Harry who by chance happens to be the father-in-law of Tom and the cousin of Dick. And besides the public had long forgotten that a camel is actually  a horse designed by a committee. Meanwhile the public at large is still awaiting  with quiet desperation to see whether judge-fixers and fixed-judges will ever spend at least a day in a police lockup sipping stale mango lassi. And now there are new and more frightening signs.

Just yesterday, an off -duty middle-ranking police officer walks into a pub in the suburb of Puchong. He takes a seat and coolly prepares his 'joint' in full view of the other patrons. Someone picks up enough courage and expresses his consternation. Mr.Cop stands up. He unbuttons his shirt and flashes his gun still sitting pretty in its non-gatal-gatal holster. As I said there are always signs. And by the way if errant Mr. Cop is ever found guilty by a disciplinary committee should he be fired, discharged or shot ?

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