Jangan lawan polis!

By Eddie Tuen
The Malaysian Insider
May 02, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 —”Jangan Lawan Polis!” I screamed out at the crowd as a Chinese polis officer flanked by two outriders rode down Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in front of Sogo. The time was close to 3:45pm.

Moments before, I had watched in dismay as BERSIH rally goers threw mineral water bottles at a patrol car and then at an outrider who had driven recklessly through the crowd.

Why were they driving through the hostile crowd which had been bombed with tear gas, drenched in chemically laced water and chased all the way down from Dataran Merdeka up to Sogo at high speed? Was there anything urgent that messages could not be passed through the radio? Was there a VIP needing to be delivered to the other side of town that requires dangerously driving through a crowd? Or, was it for the video cameras? To paint a picture of a rowdy crowd bent on creating havoc?

I cannot blame some of the crowd for doing what they did. They were angry, they had been betrayed. The polis were supposed to protect us and ensure order, but we found ourselves being attacked and hunted down like wild animals.

I joined the rally on the 28th of April 2012 to support the cause for free and fair elections, as well as to protest against the setting up of the massive rare Earth plant in Kuantan. I wore both the green of Himpunan Hijau and the yellow underneath of Bersih 3.0. I removed the green and revealed the yellow when I reached the outskirts of Dataran, a green ribbon around my neck.

I am a professional, an engineer, a tax payer, a registered voter and a Malaysian citizen. I did not join the rally to ‘lawan polis’. Far from it, I expected a peaceful sit in ending with everyone standing up at 4:00pm singing to our national anthem, ‘Negaraku’.

I was there on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, barely 20m from the polis cordon of barricades and razor wire. It was close to 12:00 noon when we arrived and we mingled in a sea of faces that represented a good cross section of Malaysians.

Everyone was there, the makciks and their pakciks, the uncles and the aunties, the young, the old, children and even the handicapped on their wheelchairs. There was a festive feeling in the air, we were showing to the government our spirit, our unity which none of their insincere sloganeering could ever truly reflect.

Shouts of “Hidup Rakyat!”, “Bersih!” and “Reformasi!” filled the air, the last ironic as the Bersih organisers had specifically forbidden the representation of political parties in the rally. Nevertheless, the reality was a significant number of Bersih supporters were active supporters of Pakatan Rakyat. There was no doubt of that fact. A clean and fair election will serve the interests of the opposition and otherwise for the ruling coalition.

Foreigners walked through the crowds, somewhat amused at the festivities. I worried for them, dressed lightly for tropical weather in their T-shirts and short pants, especially when I could see those red coloured trucks that represented the notorious Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) lining up on the road directly in front of Dataran Merdeka, two lines of red helmeted, body armoured FRU personnel armed with shields and truncheons standing at attention before it.

They were not present at Himpunan Hijau 2.0, Kuantan and that event went well without a hitch. Does the presence of the FRU signal an intention to use them?

“Najib wouldn’t dare”, I thought! Not when the election is about to be called!

My friends and I sat in the crowd. That was what we intended to do all along, despite the hot afternoon sun beating down on us.

At 2:30pm, the crowd in front of us begin to shout “Masuk! Masuk!” I was becoming uneasy, did these people intend to enter Dataran Merdeka? I gestured to my friends who followed me here to pull back. If there was going to be a stampede, we would be in big trouble.

We moved back 100m down Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman beyond 7-11 and took shelter under the verandah of pre-war shop lots, mostly closed. Some of us chatted with other rally goers, I had a light snack and drank the rest of the water I brought.

3:00pm, all hell broke loose. It started off with the sound of ‘pops’ in a distance. I peered out down towards Dataran Merdeka, plumes of white smoke were forming in front of the crowd!

“Najib did it! He actually did it!” I exclaimed in dismay.

Nearby, a Malay man immediately offered us sweets, saying that it will cushion the effects of the tear gas. I took it and thanked him.

That was when more ‘pops’ were heard, much, much closer. The crowd begin to run helter skelter. Try as I might to walk calmly, eventually I broke into a run, especially when my eyes begin to tear and my skin begin to sting. Nearby, a man fainted and had to be carried away by others.

I stopped near the Coliseum Restaurant, attempting to regroup with my friends. Nearby a Chinese man was pouring water on a Malay man’s palm to wash his eyes. I asked for some water, because I had finished drinking my supply earlier on. The Chinese man without hesitation poured some into my cupped hands. Others offered me salt, I respectfully declined, the sweet in my mouth actually doing what it was said to be doing.

The onslaught continued. More ‘pops’ and warnings of polis charging into the crowd arresting people. Everyone ran again, my friends and I running into a nearby Mamak stall that was surprisingly still open.

It was almost full of Malaysians. I shared a table with a middle aged Malay man and woman. Both were resting after being hit by tear gas. Another middle aged Malay couple joined us, one woman was crying. One of my friends offered rock salt.

Outside it was pandemonium as the attack continued. Tear gas seeped into the shop and the shutters had to be closed.

We spent about 20 minutes in the shop before deciding to leave. Only when on the way out did I realise who the middle aged Malay man was. He was Zunar, the famed political cartoonist. I came over, asked to shake his hand and thank him for his efforts in bringing political awareness to us all Malaysians.

We returned to the streets, heading towards Dang Wangi LRT station. We found it was closed, a line of FRU advancing down Jalan Dang Wangi heading towards us. No warning, more tear gas fired, polischased us.

Then there was a lull. A row of Red Crescent vehicles stopped along Jalan Dang Wangi to distribute mineral water bottles to the crowd. People thanked them, shook their hands and gave them the thumbs up. An elderly Malay man came up to me to see whether I had another mineral water bottle to spare, I gave him mine and told him I would share with my friend.

When they left, the polis advanced again. Overhead a copter hovered. “Hidup Rakyat!”, someone shouted and I followed.

It was then, that I saw the polisoutrider was being attacked by bystanders.

4:00pm, a lone Unit Amal member yelled to the crowd that the rally was over and everyone was to disperse. In the din of a crowd constantly being charged at by polis, I doubt a lot of people heard him.

I did, and my friends and I made our way back to KLCC.

Such was our fear of being caught and beaten up by polis reminiscent of Bersih 2.0, that we decided to enter a side alley next to a well-known hotel on Jalan Sultan Ismail to change out of our yellow T-shirts and don our normal clothes.

As we did so, unexpectedly a lone Malay man joined us at the side alley. He did not wear the familiar yellow.

Once changed, we continued down Jalan Ampang towards KLCC, the man followed us. I asked him whether he attended the rally, he claimed he did. I was suspicious, he could be Special Branch, secretly I whispered to my friends to watch what they are saying.

At KLCC we split up, moving separately to the LRT station to lose our tail. I reached home safely, exhausted but no less shocked and angry at what happened.

In retrospect, looking at the videos of polis brutality as well as my first-hand experience of being tear gassed and attacked without warning, my scant faith in the Malaysian PolisForce had completely evaporated on the 28th of April 2012. We as Malaysians, of all races and creed came to Dataran Merdeka with the intention of asking for free and fair elections as well as for a government that cares for the environment and health of its citizens.

Instead, this government has shown to us how much they are disconnected from public opinion, contempt even at the rakyat’s genuine aspirations.

As for the PDRM, notice that I refer to them as ‘polis’ rather than ‘police’. I have been and studied in foreign countries, Saturday’s action proves that they have not reached the level of professionalism of their brethen to be titled the same.

Worse, I strongly suspect that the polis action last Saturday was completely planned to ‘punish’ the BERSIH rally goers. Otherwise, how would one explain the deployment of phone jammers and officers without polis numbers? Compared with Bersih 2.0, polis didn’t even bother to take the time to warn the rally goers to disperse, rather they kept on attacking, attacking and attacking unarmed civilians; the old, the young and the handicapped. Helicopters were buzzing overhead, they could have just easily mounted a speaker on them to tell the people to disperse.

Their mandate was to stop rally goers from entering Dataran Merdeka. Why pursue us across KL unleashing their entire arsenal at us innocents who stayed behind the barricades? Why not just arrest those that breached the barricades? They had more than enough officers at Dataran Merdeka to handle the few hundred protestors that got through without resorting to firing tear gas into the crowd. Why were warnings not given?

Clearly, their intention and strategy was never to peacefully disperse the rally goers but rather to teach us ‘a lesson’, forgetting that we, the rakyat pay for their salary, their perks as well as all the ammunition they thrown at us last Saturday.

As I finish writing this, I kept thinking the words I uttered last Saturday at the crowd, “Jangan lawan polis!”. I wonder, how could some people not when the polis were hellbent at wanting to ‘lawan’ the rakyat instead?

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