Saturday 22 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 20

Higher density of liquor licensees in Chinatown than in Little India
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2014

CHINATOWN has the highest density of licensed liquor retailers among areas where foreign workers congregate - not Little India.

Figures from last year showed that there were 750 liquor licensees per sq km in the Chinese enclave, more than double the 301 in Little India, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot was told yesterday.

Other foreign worker enclaves such as Geylang and Joo Chiat have 183 and 544 licensees per sq km respectively, said Police Licensing and Regulatory Department director Jessica Kwok.

The question of whether too many liquor licences have been issued in Little India had come up several times during the public hearing, after several witnesses testified that many people among the angry mob were drunk.

Assistant Commissioner (AC) Kwok said there were 331 licensees spread across the 1.1 sq km area in Little India put under the Public Order (Preservation) Act - the highest in absolute terms among the enclaves.

The Act, among other things, restricts public consumption of alcohol on weekends.

The density is seemingly highest in areas near Race Course Road and the 130m Chander Road stretch, where there were nine liquor stores before the riot. There are several blocks of Housing Board flats near those roads.

COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam said he had found "a number of liquor shops in the midst of many HDB housing estates" here.

AC Kwok agreed, but said: "People will want to sell at a place where there will be buyers."

Despite the concentration of liquor stores in the area, the crime situation in Little India has remained under control over the years, she said.

In fact, it has improved, with major crime cases falling 32 per cent between 2009 and last year, compared to the 19 per cent dip nationwide.

Likewise bucking the trend was the total number of liquor licensees there, which fell 4.6 per cent from 347 in 2009 to 331 last year. Nationwide, it rose 4 per cent in the same period.

AC Kwok said licences are not issued based on a cap. Rather, applications are assessed individually, taking into account the applicant's suitability and factors like the law and order situation and traffic issues.

As such, no "special measures" have been imposed on liquor consumption in Little India in recent years, unlike in Clarke Quay, where alcohol consumption hours were curtailed last year. The last time a moratorium was imposed in Little India was in 2001, as there were "too many liquor licences" in the area, she said, without citing numbers. This was lifted in 2004.

She said she disagreed with the "presumption" that easy access to liquor induces consumption.

"If, hypothetically, we reduce the number of liquor licences immediately - we halve it - would we see that consumption would be halved correspondingly? I don't think so," she said.

"Maybe there might be some reduction, but to what extent, I am not too sure. Therefore, what might be more effective would be to curtail the liquor licence hours."

'Sense of injustice fuelled rioting'
Police psychologist points to series of misconceptions
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2014

A CHAIN of misconstrued events - from officers protecting the driver and timekeeper of a bus which ran over a foreign worker to even covering the dead man's body with a blanket - led to a strong sense of injustice which fuelled the Little India riot.

The actions seemed to cement the rioters' view that Indian workers were treated less fairly than locals, said Dr Majeed Khader, the police force's chief psychologist, when he gave evidence to the Committee of Inquiry looking into the Dec 8 mayhem yesterday.

The behavioural sciences expert made it clear that it was not just one incident behind the violence, which left 49 Home Team officers and five auxiliary police officers injured and 23 emergency response vehicles damaged, but a confluence of five factors. These included alcohol, street justice, unfamiliarity with norms here, a sense of frustration rising from the chaos and overcrowding after the fatal accident at about 9.20pm that night.

Indian worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu had been told to get off the bus ferrying workers back to a dormitory before he fell under a wheel as he chased the vehicle.

Bus driver Lee Kim Huat and timekeeper Wong Geck Woon were soon surrounded by a growing crowd, who deemed them "perpetrators" of the accident.

When a good Samaritan ushered them onto the bus for protection, the crowd started to get violent.

This was compounded when one of the first Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers who arrived heard the timekeeper screaming, and responded to her ahead of the accident victim, whom he was not, at that point, aware of.

"That was misperceived as 'Why are you responding to the locals and not my dead countryman, who is actually below the bus?'" said Dr Majeed. "There was a sense of us versus them, locals versus foreigners."

The rioters could have been further incited when they saw police pushing the crowd back, and later giving the duo helmets and escorting them with shields away from the scene.

The SCDF's ground commander that night, Lieutenant Tiffany Neo, had told the committee that the body was covered with a blanket after it was removed from under the bus. This was out of respect and to prevent its mutilated state from getting the crowd more emotional. But this may have also fuelled the crowd's grief and frustration, as those who knew the victim were not allowed to see the body and say goodbye, added Dr Majeed.

His team's findings came after reviewing an extensive amount of material collected since the riot, including 268 transcripts, 39 CCTV and public-submitted videos, interviews with first responders and foreign workers, as well as visits to a dormitory, recreation centre and the accident scene. They also consulted experts on sociology, arson and alcohol.

While liquor consumption was not the main factor, Dr Majeed said it "certainly" played a part. Besides intensifying emotions, intoxication can remove inhibitions and also cause "alcohol myopia" - an inability to consider different explanations.

Interviews with workers also suggested that some rioters may have felt a sense of veeram - a Tamil word for bravado - while under the influence of alcohol, he said. Street justice, or the idea of an eye for an eye, is also typical in rural places and countries such as India, he added.

Dr Majeed recommended that in future, police take action early with a hierarchy of tactics beginning with "soft power", such as negotiation and warnings, before using harsher action should rioters not comply. "But we also qualify that this is possible only when the crowd is not very aggressive."

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15, Day 16, Day 17Day 18, Day 19

No comments:

Post a Comment