For the sake of argument, let's interpret this in the best possible light for the hapless policeman, that is, let's assume that he was a good cop executing his duty in dispersing what appeared to be a rowdy gathering of Mat Rempits. Assuming this to be so, what does this mean for Malaysian society?
Under ordinary circumstances, the badge alone is enough to allow one man to stand against many. Depending on how any given society's fate has played out, that badge could represent any number of things. To some, it carries with it the promise of severe retribution on opposing the will of the bearer. To others, it is a mark borne by those chosen to inflict the will of their government, for good or ill. To others still, the badge is a symbol of those who give their lives selflessly to maintain the very fragile order that keeps us from falling upon each other like rabid animals.
But whatever the case may be, in most civilized societies, you listen to the man in the uniform wearing a badge. Whether it's because he's armed and you're not, or you have commited some crime against society, or simply because it's what you were taught, you listen. This is normal. The man with the badge is here to keep the peace and uphold the law. That's the ideal, anyway, and, however far away it is from reality, it's an ideal worth pursuing.
But here, something has fallen apart. A policeman ordered some ruffians to disperse, but something went wrong. The badge didn't work and he was just one guy against ten. The badge meant nothing, a line has been crossed. Or not.
Since I started this blog, I've put up quite a few posts detailing the failures of the Malaysian policeman. Not out of spite or anything, but because I felt an integral part of society was not functioning as it should. In my eyes, this incident of a policeman getting thumped by ten hooligans is not a failure on the part of the one policeman. It is merely indicative of how Malaysia's respect for its policemen has well and truly fallen from grace.
How many of us have been pulled over for speeding, to be confronted by a traffic policeman in a shining white uniform, wearing a big badge saying "Saya Anti Rasuah*", whose very first words to you are:
"Bos tak mau tolong ah?"
Trans: Need a little "help"?
Trans: Need a little "help"?
If you're Malaysian, and you drive, odds are this has happened to you. And of course, you'd also probably be well aware of the myriad little incidents that have slowly chipped away at their credibility, some of which have been recorded on this blog for posterity**. Seeing as my stomach simply isn't quite strong enough to sift through all of the Star for tales of the antics of the Malaysian police, I'm pretty sure there are many more I haven't recorded.
In this most recent incident, public respect for the police has dropped yet another notch and harsh questions that should have been asked long ago once again come to light. Do Malaysians respect the police? Do they feel any safer for police presence? Is there such thing as a good cop anymore? What does the badge mean? What will it take for the Malaysian police to win back their credibility with the common people? And by the common people I mean the ones who know the current price of bribing one's way out of a speeding ticket is RM50.
I'd like to hope that some effort is being made to restore the policeman to his rightful place in Malaysian society, but from what we've seen so far, I'm not holding my breath.
* Translated: "I'm anti-bribery".
** See here, here and here.