I thank The Star for publishing my letter (the subject of the previous post) yesterday, but I am appalled by a clinical psychologist’s opinion that Aminulrasyid Amzah is to blame for having had himself shot and killed by the police.
I wonder at any society that holds a minor culpable for his own death at the hands of the police and yet insists on the calling itself a “society”. The argument that Aminulrasyid is at fault for his own death is logically identical to the argument that babies, discarded by their mothers, are to blame for having been born; or that abused children are responsible for putting themselves in positions where they can be tortured.
The responsibility for a minor’s welfare does not lie solely within the province of an individual parent—all adults have a moral duty, in a civilised society, to care for all young people who are, or might be put, in harm’s way. This is why children are “minors” and do not have adult rights.
To say then that “it is not my business”, when we hear the screams of an abused child next door, is to aid and abet a crime. Likewise, to witness a child do wrong and yet do nothing is a fundamental denial that we have any moral obligation towards children in society: and likewise it denies that they have any right to social protection.
Unlike the rest of us the police are charged by society with the active fulfilment of this duty. People volunteer to be policemen and women. They are not conscripted. The law exists to protect, and as its enforcers, the main task of the police is precisely that. Protect. I often hear the argument that those seeking greater accountability of the police are malicious spirits trying to spread chaos in society: by questioning police actions, we damage their morale and cause them to hesitate in shooting criminals. How many times do we have to go round this circle? Suspects are not criminals until proven so in court, and shooting them dead deprives them of the right to be heard.
The whole point of criminal law is to determine culpability. The police are empowered only to apprehend suspects of a crime, not to determine guilt, which is the business of the legal system. With that in mind, the statement made by Dr Teoh Hsien Jin yesterday not only flies in the face reason, it actively promotes exactly the same kind of shoddy thinking that gets us into moral difficulty in the first place:
KUALA LUMPUR: It is clear that 14-year-old Aminulrasyid Amzah was at fault in his shooting, leading him to being accidentally shot by police who were only discharging their duties, a clinical psychologist said. [“It is clear“? Is it the duty of a policeman to shoot suspects dead without reference to the law?]
Assoc Prof Dr Teoh Hsien Jin said the situation was getting out of proportion and that the public had overlooked the most important issue, which was that of a minor driving a car without a driving licence. [The most important issue is the use of disproportionate force, in this case lethal force, in the apprehension of a suspect. Does Dr Teoh mean to say that driving a car without a licence is a dangerous crime, on par with armed robbery, necessitating the discharge of a weapon?]
He said that as far as the law was concerned, such an act was an offence. [Yes, it is an offence. But if Dr Teoh seeks to argue law, then he should ask himself what the penalty is for driving without a licence, determine the appropriate use of force in its enforcement, and compare that to what happened to Aminulrasyid. Also, does Dr Teoh condone the shooting of ANYONE who drives without a licence and panics when confronted by armed policemen?]
“The crime rate in Selangor is worrying and the police have taken the necessary steps to reduce crime in the state by putting more men on patrol to react to any perceived threat. [Aminulrasyid was not a criminal. He was at best a suspect in a traffic violation. The police do not have the ability to determine guilt.]
“A lot of violent crime takes place after midnight and a speeding car pursued by a group of motorcyclists fits the scenario perfectly,” said Dr Teoh who is the Head of the School of Natural Health and Sciences in Sunway University College. [Fits what scenario, exactly? This is purely conjectural, and I can conjecture the opposite thing: that the motorcyclists are Mat Rempits intending to assault and kill the driver. I should then advise the police to shoot all motorcyclists appearing to pursue a car, whether or not they are actually doing so. In fact, they should just shoot all motorists as they’re all potential criminals.]
Dr Teoh, a former journalist, said the usual procedure for policemen in a patrol car or at roadblocks would be to pull a suspicious car over and shine a torchlight into it. [Yes, but what constitutes a “suspicious car”? I have been stopped in this fashion a number of times, but on what grounds? I am unable to tell what “suspicious behaviour” is, as (un)defined by Dr Teoh and the police; so if I am shot as a result, am I to blame?”]
“But the policemen may not have had the chance to do that in Aminulrasyid’s case as the minor sped off, which led to the police firing at the speeding car.
“Police on shifts are normally armed with automatic firearms because they do not know who or what they will be up against. You just have to react to dangerous situations. [Is a fleeing car “a dangerous situation”? Does Dr Teoh mean to say that it is right to open fire on anyone reacting negatively to a bunch of armed men trying to detain a vehicle in the middle of the night?]
“When they opened fire, it is likely that one stray bullet could have hit him. In the dark, they were probably shooting to stop the car,” said Dr Teoh, who was also a Territorial Army officer. [This is again pure conjecture and is akin to pulling a rabbit out of one’s arse. Unfortunately the principal witness in this case can’t testify because he is dead. It is likely. They were probably shooting to stop the car. Do any of these conditional statements demonstrate with clarity that Aminulrasyid is at fault? Or does the fact that I say “an apple might be blue” equal proof that there is at least one blue apple in the world?]
He said he sympathised with the Inspector-General of Police who had come under fire from various quarters for threatening to pull his men off the streets following a public outcry over the incident. [The Inspector-General was behaving like an adolescent throwing a tantrum. Yes, he was “under fire” but not by any means enough. Perhaps we should shoot him in the head.]
“They are already overworked and underpaid and politicising the matter does not help. It is only making them more frustrated and angry,” he said. [Overworked? Maybe. Underpaid? Maybe. What happened then to the RM12.4 billion we gave them? Politicising this matter has so far been the ONLY way to draw sufficient attention to it.]
The inescapable conclusion of Dr Teoh’s argument is that as Aminulrasyid had broken the law by driving without a licence (as he was underaged), he was therefore solely to be blamed for having been shot. Guilt therefore lies with the victim; and if this is to be a general rule, it is therefore also true that ANY child in any circumstance must be blamed for suffering the same fate.
I draw your attention again to the fact that minors are held by the law not to be responsible for their actions because they are deemed to lack sufficient understanding of the consequences of their actions. (There is some controversy surrounding the age of criminal responsibility, based on the presumption of doli incapax (incapable of crime). In the UK this is defined as age 10 and below, 14 in Australia (and no charge at all can be brought against a suspect aged 10 and under); and trial in an adult court generally takes place at 18 and above. Malaysia’s case is another story, for another day.)
Dr Teoh’s argument however negates the intention of minority protection. Actually it negates the very basis of criminal law as a whole if we can justify using lethal force on unarmed or otherwise non-threatening suspects, regardless of how old they are.
For all I know Dr Teoh might be a first-rate clinical psychologist, but if I were to subject him to the same set of assumptions he has subjected Aminulrasyid, then I should very easily conclude that he would have us believe that wayward children are criminals deserving rough justice in the middle of the night—that Aminulrasyid’s principal crime was to have been a child.
And that would be a terrible advertisement for Sunway University College where he works.