Aminulrasyid Amzah killed by Malaysian Police for fun

Who will police our policemen?
Public outrage is rightfully getting louder and more visible after the 2am death in a police shooting this week of 15-year-old schoolboy Aminulrasyid Amzah.

The home minister has quickly made himself prominent by ordering an internal inquiry to be headed by his deputy, supposedly an "open and transparent inquiry without any cover-up or bias". That's what he says. We hope he holds to it.

The public are likely to remember that ministers and others in high places loudly insisting they did no wrong were later found to have lied, as in the royal commission into the VK Lingam videos.

And the public will also remember that the commission recommended action be taken to bring those held responsible to trial. And that where the royal commission proposed, the Attorney-General disposed.

Then there is the continuing high-visibility inquest into the death of Teoh Beng Hock at the offices of a law-enforcement agency.

Going by such past experiences, home minister Hishamuddin Tun Hussein's inquiry will please few except fellow politicians and those concerned merely with upholding a favourable public image of the police force. Unless, of course, it uncovers the truth and firm action results.

So, too, with the Selangor police chief's promise of a "thorough, fair and open" investigation. But it is conducted by the police themselves, behind closed doors.

Another minister, Noh Omar, as deputy Selangor Umno leader, intends to bring the matter up to the Cabinet.

Scepticism over the government's ability to control its own agencies stems from the government's own inadequacies, shown in a variety of events in the past year.

An open question of leadership

Among those that come to mind are the home minister's supine response to a visible threat to public order in the cow's-head demonstration at a mosque in 2009; his feeble responses to events arising from the Allah controversy which were a clear threat to public order; and his near total lack of response to police action against critical publications that pose absolutely no threat to public order.

The Selangor police chief himself has been notorious for finding no wrong in policemen who harrass the public and politicians trying to exercise their god-given right to express themselves freely.

Such government actions clearly smack of seeking political advantage for the ruling administration. They do not provide confidence that the Home Ministry or the police force will uphold as their foremost consideration the interests of the public at large or those of the ordinary citizen.

Will any of these actions quell public suspicions about laxity in the police force, or the administration's lack of will, ability or muscle to bring the police force firmly under civilian control and fully responsible to the task of upholding justice? It remains an open question.

The boy who died this week, Aminulrasyid, had gone out late in his sister's car without the family's knowledge. Depending on whose account you choose to believe, he was shot in the back of the head by police, or struck by a bullet aimed at the car's tyres.

Aminul is only the latest in a string of ordinary people who have died at the hands of the police in suspicious circumstances.

And that is not even taking into account others who died in suspicious circumstances during police action against suspected criminal activity, or while in police custody.

And that is not even taking into account deaths of illegal immigrants or foreign workers.

The death of A Kugan in police custody in January and the sordid and ugly episode of how the authorities handled the family's demands to see his body at the hospital mortuary, the subsequent dispute over post-mortem findings and the horrifying pictures of injuries he suffered are mortifyingly vivid in the public mind.

An open question of accountability

So, too, the accounts of single mother Norizan Salleh in October last year of how she was shot by police five times while travelling in a car with a male friend and another couple.

Two decades ago, another schoolboy, Elmi Tahir, died in a police shooting while out with his girlfriend on his birthday in 1986. Police gave vivid accounts of a wild late-night car chase through the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

They said he died after he was struck by a bullet during the chase. His father revealed that Elmi had been shot at close-range, in the forehead above the right eyebrow. His girlfriend said a policeman standing outside the driver's door had shot Elmi in cold blood.

Few have been brought to account for such deaths.

A decade after Elmi, one policeman faced trial and was later convicted for the death of government doctor Tai Eng Teck in Bandar Tasik Selatan. Tai, like Elmi, died from a police bullet, while in a car, and while out with a woman.

Police officials usually have pat responses. The dead were criminals. They behaved in a suspicious manner. They tried to evade arrest. They resisted arrest. They drove away dangerously. Weapons were later found. Police acted by the rules. The law allows them to defend themselves. And so on and so forth.

The continuing lack of convincing explanations and convincing action by the government will only harden public opinion of the government and its agencies and their motives.

The crux of the matter is whether those in government are willing or able to police themselves. When politicians always seem willing to turn a blind eye to bending the rules when it suits them, what remaining value is there in the word of politicians and officials who promise to uphold law and order?

A sceptical public will only ask: whose law, and on whose orders?

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