KUALA LUMPUR: Another large demonstration was held in the city centre today with the police firing tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Malaysian Defence will not got into over the merit of having street demonstrations, its up to the individual to decide on this but we must go over how the police handled the situation.
First of this is not a criticism of the police individually but mostly on the standard operating procedures in handling such situation.
Malaysian Defence, from experience of covering various demonstrations in the past, believes that the organisers will be more than happy if the police would deny their application for a license to stage the event. Since the police will never give permission the organisers already has a talking point against the authority. They can say that we are living a police state.
As one opposition like to say that if the government says everything was good long enough everyone will start believing in them, ‘d say that if we reverse the saying, that a lot of people say that Malaysia is a police state long enough, everyone will also start believing in them.
As such at every chance possible, detractors repeated the statement all the time that it seemed those statements are true.
Those organising street demonstrations also have the same views and no amount of warning will stop them from holding them. Since the police had already said they will not tolerate demonstrations, the troops in the field have no other options to disperse street rallies no matter how peaceful they are.
Police cannot be saying one thing and not doing it, it cannot afford to lose face like that. As such the Federal Reserve Unit had to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons and in extreme cases (as what had happened during the reformasi) baton charges.
Street demonstrations organisers understand this and had informed their supporters that by just ignoring the police warnings, usually made not more three times (Sila bersurai, jika anda tidak bersurai kami suraikan anda dengan kekerasan, Please disperse, if you do not we will have to disperse you violently), the police will act against them.
Inevitably confrontation will happened as no street rally organisers will disperse voluntarily without the police firing tear gas and water cannons. After five minutes of teargas and water cannons, they will break up to congregate in nearby locations again to confront the police.
This cat and mouse game will contine up to more than five times (as shown during reformasi and in the recent events in Jalan Tun Perak and today’s Hindraf rally ) with the same scenario repeated.
For the organisers its simply free publicity. Which street demonstrator does not want to be inhaling the sweet smell of tear gas and irritant smelly water? And each time it became more and more easier to provoke the police from firing tear gas and water cannons.
With an order of no compromise, the police commanders in the field have no other option but to reach for the tear gas canisters and water cannon triggers.
So whats the best way to do it? First of all the mainstream media who seemed to be delighted in showing street demos overseas from Palestine to Iraq and Pakistan, must be told to stop publicising such events. By gushing over these demos like those in Myanmar recently our mainstream media seemed to tell every body that these rallies are the best way to get your views across.
The funny thing about this is that if a street demo happened in Malaysia, the mainstream media seemed to ignore/downplay its importance.
The police must not give blanket statement that such demos are illegal and will not be tolerated. By placing themselves in a tactical disadvantage, they give the demonstrators the right to control the situation and not the other way around.
Street demonstrations are dynamic events (anything with human input are dynamic) so one cannot have one or two ways to handle the situation, it is up to the savvy commander to roll with the punches and not give in to confrontation. Unless they are attacked with weapons, the FRU should only oversee the situation and control the crowd.
If large numbers of demonstrators become a problem, it is best disperse them into three or four large groups rather allowing them to merge into smaller groups.
Do not use water cannons and tear gas just to disperse them. It is better to soak them with irritant water using a fire hose and allow them to disperse in a slow fashion and not into a panicky situation which may result in a stampede.
Dynamic situations needed a street trained creative commanders on the scene to control and not aggravate an already heated. By tradition street demonstrators are already angry people (whether or not they are right or to the contrary is of course another question) and only a little spark could turned them into an angry mob, bent on destroying everything and anything.
So control must be retained at all times and not allowed to be handed over to the other side on a silver platter. With election fever going on strong, more street demonstrations will be planned and held despite tough words from the authorities. Touch wood, nothing bad had happened but it just need a little spark for something truly bad from occurring.
The other option of course, is to work with the organisers of these street rallies. Make sure the route is planned and marked and every one who wanted to join in must be registered and screened for trouble makers. Police should accompanied the demonstrators along the route and those who carry offensive placards and shout obscenities be arrested and prevented from joining such rallies.
Otherwise weekends will be something that most city folks will want to avoid needlessly.
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