Weary of Being Wary?

This article was first published in Obiter Dicta – the online BAC Law Society Newsletter.

One night, my aunt was watching telly and I was, as usual, in my room. Suddenly, I heard a few loud gasps. My aunt came rushing to my room and told me about a child in China who was run over multiple times by a van and then a truck, while passers-by just stood, watched and did nothing. Clearly, she was deeply distressed by this piece of news. I mean, it was just written all over her face. And I’m not being dramatic.

I just brushed it off and shrugged. People. And then it hit me. I was so nonchalant about the death of a three-year-old and the ignorance of people. I have been desensitised. Now, it was my turn to be distressed as I pondered upon my eroded humanity.

So I looked at our country and the state it is in. Crime has become a norm, an everyday occurrence. Are we fearful? Yes. Are we worried? Yes. But have we accepted that crime will always be a big part of our lives? YES.

There isn’t a need to refer to statistics to show the magnitude of criminal activity in Malaysia. Just take a drive around Petaling Jaya. Advertisements for the sale of spanking new houses list the ‘GATED & GUARDED’ feature in bold, capital letters. Potential buyers wouldn’t even consider un-gated and unguarded neighbourhoods. Even old neighbourhoods which were not ‘gated and guarded’ initially are now. Green chain-link fences surround the area and most access roads are barricaded by crude metal barrels. Security guards from private companies are hired by residents to monitor the in- and outgoing traffic. By night, the guards do their rounds on motorcycles. So, the crime rates drop and we say, ‘Yes, this is a mighty good approach!’

But does it not strike you as wrong? Where are the police in this? Is it not the duty of the law enforcement officers to nab the bad guys? It seems that we, the people, have taken the duty of protecting ourselves upon ourselves.

Before you think I’m going on a tirade of denunciation against the police force, you must know that I commend our police force for being absolutely efficient at busting local and international drug syndicates. But security for the general public has been neglected. When was the last time you left your house feeling completely secure? The Malaysian house has an average of three types of security locks on just the front door. Ladies tightly clutch their purses, which are filled with ‘weaponry’ – triple packs of pepper sprays, batons, and Tasers for the more extreme ones. The police force tells us to keep watch for our safety and teaches us methods to do so. But what is lacking is the tough crackdown on these criminals who terrorise the public.

I grew up reading stories about spunky British kids who never age and solve mysteries every school break. Virtually every book had the phrase “a policeman at the corner of the road”. As a child, I would wonder why policemen at the corners of roads. It would be a forgivable thought because here in Malaysia, even to catch a whiff of police presence on the streets is difficult. Any Malaysian will say that they could go for days or weeks without seeing a single policeman.

At times, the police would conduct roadblocks for security purposes (usually after a burglary has occurred in that area). What is your first reaction? ‘Buckle up, those behind! Don’t look suspicious.’ Fear. We’ve become fearful of the authority that is supposed to protect us simply because we’re not accustomed to seeing them around. This is an adverse reaction. By right, we should feel safe having them around. It is sad that most of the time when we see policemen around, it is because a crime has already happened.

If we were to look at ‘prevention’ and ‘cure’, the former is certainly simpler than the latter. If the police force was initially stringent in the area of enforcement by deploying police officers around town to curtail criminal activity, we wouldn’t be at such a severe state of rampant lawlessness. But the damage has been done. The task to eradicate crime is a monumental task that the force has no choice but to undertake now.

In general, the regard for the police is low. In the US, police procedural drama series like Blue Bloods and Law & Order receive high national ratings. The success is an indicator of the high regard of the Americans for their police force. This isn’t the same case for our local TV series Gerak Khas.

Gone are the days when children could cycle around the neighbourhood or play badminton on the road without parental supervision. Intense paranoia has overtaken us. Just the sight of a car slowing down gets us geared up to fend away potential kidnappers, only to find out that they just wanted to ask for directions. I believe that all Malaysians are weary of be wary all the time. It isn’t a matter of “If I have money, I would buy security”. We are already doing that by hiring security guards in our neighbourhoods. It is a matter of the police force coming to the fore and doing what they are legitimately meant to do, that is to be the preventive force that they are. When crime goes, society will shun it and no longer see it as a normalcy. That is when our sense of humanity returns.

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