UPDATE: The Star has published the letter today (May 6) here.
The death of Aminulrashid Amzah at 1.30AM last Monday (Apr 21) is being railroaded away from the primary concern—the use of lethal force on a minor—towards negligent parenting, the child’s “criminal potential”, and various other forms of justification for shooting Aminulrashid in the head (it was too dark to see; there was, so the police say, a parang (machete) in the car so his intent to commit a crime may be determined ex post facto; etc).
Some people have gone so far as to argue in private that his mother Norsiah Mohammad should be charged, though with what exactly they can’t say. Aiding and abetting the commission of an unspecified crime? Criminal negligence leading to manslaughter (of her own son)? I pose the equivalent question: if a child attacks his mother with a kitchen knife, for whatever reason, should the mother be charged with attempted suicide?
If, as the Inspector-General says, the vehicle being driven my Aminulrashid must be considered a dangerous weapon, then we impute intent to kill on the boy’s part. This is unproven, and now unprovable because he is dead. And even if it were provable, the law prevents a juvenile being subject to a death penalty. How then is it right that the police should execute a child extra-judicially on whatever grounds?
I don’t blame people for not having a view, or having an idiotic one. If they rely on the Government and mainstream Press as the main methods by which their opinions are shaped, then this is the result of it and has been so for at least 10 years since we began the general lobotomisation of the population.
What I do blame them for is their stubborn refusal to distinguish between right and wrong themselves—it is no one’s right, and especially not the government’s, to dictate to anyone the limits and direction of moral understanding. That is a personal responsibility and the acceptance of established ethical codes such as the law, or precepts of religion, must stem from individual understanding of these precepts.
Otherwise it is hypocrisy or, worse, willing enslavement. We know a law to be good because we understand it to be good and not because someone else tells us it is. Isn’t this painfully obvious?
And yet we have a ridiculous front-page lead from yesterday’s Sunday Star (May 2), to which I responded thus:
Has civic responsibility failed to such an extent that we do not recognise the idea of subjecting adolescents to a national curfew, with their identity cards to be checked by “social workers or police after 11pm” (Concern over teenagers hanging out late at night, May 2) as reactionary, authoritarian and unconstitutional?
I should have thought it obvious enough that a parent’s duty to his or her child includes educating that child in personal responsibility and safety. To relegate even a part of that duty to the state, beyond national education, is a ludicrous admission that Malaysians are on a very basic level unfit to be parents.
Maybe this is so; and maybe we are so morally feeble that our first instinct when faced with children staying out late is to assume it is a “growing phenomenon” — some kind of crime or anti-social “indulgence” — and without really proving our case we react in typical knee-jerk fashion by appealing to some form of sweeping national policy.
Why? Is it because we lack the backbone to stand up as good examples for our own young? Are we incapable of discipline?
And who are we really to demand that our children do as we say when we fail so spectacularly to maintain even rudimentary standards of civil behaviour (let alone serve as good examples) on the road, in shopping complexes, other public spaces and even at home?
Really the only way to “police” minors effectively is to have them do it themselves. They must be taught to tell right from wrong and to choose the right path of their own volition: anything else would be fatuous tyranny that does nothing but ridicule authority in general, and the only way we can achieve this is to act responsibly ourselves.
A chief responsibility right now is to recognise that children will undoubtedly make mistakes, as will we — such is the nature of being human — but whatever the case no child should have to fear being shot in the head, no matter what time it is.
Ultimately if we treat the young without respect, we lose all right to expect any in return.
Patrick has already posted this on his blog, but what I did not say in my letter was the The Star was at best incredibly stupid to cite an opinion (i.e. that staying out late was a “growing phenomenon”) as quantifiable fact. If you read the original story you’ll find that the director-general of the Nat. Population and Family Development Board provided only opinion polls in support of her argument and furthermore said this: “Teens staying out late at night are a common thing. Six years ago, it was the top disapproved activity and now, although we don’t have the actual figure, it seems to be growing.”
I don’t blame the director-general for being an ass: such is the way of things now. But I blame The Star for dressing up a ridiculous opinion as a fact, and then having the gall to go around obtaining follow-ups on that basis. At best it is stupid, but I believe it is deliberate propagation of idiocy and, alone, deprives The Star of any claim to represent the Fourth Estate. They then wonder why people are turning away from the Press.
In any case the Prime Minister said yesterday that he “hoped” the police would “cooperate and not cover up to protect anyone,” adding that “the public wants answers. We cannot be defensive.”
That statement is about as strong as attacking Fort Knox with a piece of boiled cabbage. The Prime Minister doesn’t speak for me. I want answers, yes, and I also want his cousin’s idiotic head on a plate, but that doesn’t mean I will get it.
We approved RM12.4 billion in federal funding to the Police over the past three budgets for 2008, 2009 and 2010 (this last is a pdf of the PM’s budget speech). Are we saying that despite this we still cannot provide for safe streets in Shah Alam—safe enough at least for Aminulrashid to fool about with his sister’s car without running the risk of being shot as a suspected criminal?
Are we saying that, instead of recognising what we all know to be critical problems in the police, we should instead provide them additional power to persecute children? What do we propose they should do if, as a result of the curfew, some kids are found to be out of the house without proper “papers”? Shoot them in the street?
[And last night the police raided a Selangor state government youth outreach programme in Shah Alam (again), injuring a college student. The pretext was that they were acting on complaints from “residents” (the event was at Dataran Shah Alam, a public space) and the operation was apparently conducted jointly with the Shah Alam City Council and the Department of the Environment.
The City Council denies this—it was a co-organiser of the programme and Councillor Azli Yusof was present at the event in that capacity.
And the Home Minister expects me “not to have a negative perception of the police force” ?]