Down with public apathy

  • Community
  • Saturday, 21 Dec 2013

In huge contradiction of what Malaysians are supposed to be — kind, warm, friendly and helpful — we find ourselves becoming more indifferent to what goes on around us. 

The brief conversation went something like this:

SYT 1: These people so daring lah. They hijacked a YB’s four-wheel drive recently; some more in broad daylight!

SYT 2: So? Any other better news than that?

SYT 1: Hey! It’s a YB we’re talking about here; an assistant minister lah. And no one bothered to come to his aid.

SYT 2: So? What’s the big deal? Why is it that when the victim involves a VIP, everyone pays attention but when we, the ordinary citizens, are mugged in the street, no one gives a hoot?

SYT 1: (Gave a bewildered look and changed the topic.)

Lately, the increased crime rate in the country has become a much talked about topic, be it in the coffee shops or on social media.

News reports of abductions, carjackings, assaults and robberies, as well as personal tales of getting robbed and having premises being broken into have been dominating the walls of Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The recent carjacking incident in which an assistant minister was a victim has highlighted several issues when it comes to combating crime in our country.

Top on the list is the response time. When relating his experience to the media, the assistant minister claimed that it took almost 40 minutes for the police to reach the crime scene.

Forty minutes! Isn’t this too long a time? This is unacceptable. In response, the police made a statement that their officers could have been caught up with “other duties elsewhere”.

Tales of the police dawdling to the crime scene in Peninsular Malaysia are not rare. Neither are they just tales, but rather facts. But, in Sarawak? I thought this snail’s pace response should not be happening here.

Because an assistant minister got carjacked, he had good media coverage. What about victims of robberies and other crimes who did not get any coverage?

I was informed by a business owner in Matang Jaya once that the police from a nearby station took more than an hour to reach the crime scene. The police station in question is hardly a ten-minute drive away.

In this case, the thief who had broken into the office was found asleep on one of the tables in the office by an employee of the business owner. The police also had the cheek to ask the worker who called in if she had attempted to wake the thief up and chase him off.

I also heard of someone who made a report early in the morning several years ago that her house had been broken into, but the police only arrived at the scene to investigate, later in the afternoon.

When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak came into power in 2009, he pledged to reduce crime. Transformation programmes were introduced to address the problem and the police force was told to buck up.

Yet, while statistics have shown that crime has been decreasing, the people’s fears are instead heightened, due to the heinous nature of some of the crimes, and the fact that public perception towards the police force is still at a low.

Allow me to quote the Crime and Justice International Magazine: “Problems and needs affecting the police force and policing in Malaysia should be addressed.

“There’s a need to improve public-police relations. The relations between the police and the Malaysian public has traditionally been lukewarm at best.

“Malaysians generally associate the police with brutality, abuse of power and corruption, and lack of professionalism in law enforcement.”

It does not help when the rotten apples have not shaped up, nor have they been shipped out. It also does not help public perception when the police are still sluggish and nonchalant in dealing with cases.

Even making police reports seems to be a herculean task these days for some victims. For example, the one-stop centre does not seem to live up to its name at all.

Victims of cyber crimes will still then have to proceed to the Cyber Crime Unit in another location in the city.

When we go to the nearest police station to make a report, we are told to go to the one-stop centre instead.

The assistant minister’s carjacking incident also highlighted another sad situation where crime in our country is concerned — bystander apathy.

I dare say that while we, the bystanders, kick up a whole lot of fuss on social media and in coffee shops, we more often than not contradict ourselves when it comes to actually taking action.

In the case of the assistant minister’s carjacking, he related that while there were people around when he was in trouble and scuffling with the carjackers, not a single soul came to his aid. Instead, they just looked on.

They could have been afraid to help, seeing that the carjackers were armed.

Fair enough. I doubt anyone would want to put himself in harm’s way to help a “stranger”.

But they could have made some noise to at least try to scare the carjackers or called the cops if they did not want to get involved physically.

In huge contradiction of what Malaysians are supposed to be (kind, warm, friendly and helpful), we find ourselves becoming more indifferent to what goes on around us.

This also contradicts with the noise we make about certain issues over social media or through coffee shop’s talk.

Apathy is not only limited to crime these days. People are becoming more self-centred and selfish. This can be seen clearly where youngsters do not bother giving up their seats in public transportation or in hospital waiting rooms to the elderly or those in need of aid.

I was in Kuala Lumpur recently and took the rail to KL Sentral. I had to give up my seat in the packed cabin, to a pregnant woman with swollen ankles just because the youngsters seated in front of me could not be bothered.

Apathy is a dangerous thing. It personifies the ruination of a societal structure.

One for one, and no longer all for one.

It is even more dangerous when it involves crime. I am not saying that we have to put our lives and those of our loved ones in harm’s way, whenever we witness a crime.

There are other ways to aid a victim who is being robbed; for example, by creating noise with hopes of scaring the robbers away, or at the very least picking up the phone to call the police, and hope that the men in blue would appear in the blink of an eye.

As this will be my last column of the year, allow me to wish readers and friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May we, as Sarawakians, continue to be kind, friendly, warm and helpful to our fellow human beings, especially those who are in need of help.

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