So long as the police are not brought to account for cases of misconduct involving some of their members, one must expect such cases to recur over and over again to the detriment of the disadvantaged in this country, some of whom are deprived of the most basic of their rights – their right to live.
Once accountability is established, and the perpetrators are taken to task, and the full weight of the law is brought to bear on them – charge them for murder if they did murder – then the instances of police brutality and deaths under police custody will fall off.
It is because past instances of police brutality and deaths in custody were treated so lightly by the government and the police that elements in the police believe that they can behave with impunity and utterly disregard the rights of citizens.
Bad enough that this is happening – and there have been deaths in custody of all races – it looks like that there is a disproportionate number of cases that involve Indians relative to their population, particularly those that have been very brutal.
That is disturbing and raises legitimate questions of whether the police is discriminating against Indians.
To recap, C Sugumaran, according to some eyewitnesses who spoke to the press, but who (for some reason) the police could not immediately locate, was chased in Hulu Langat by policemen who caught and handcuffed him, and then proceeded to kick and hurt him along with a mob even after he was handcuffed.
Initial reports stated that his body was left for some time before it was removed and taken to the mortuary, still handcuffed. Police claimed that the autopsy report said he died of a heart attack and denied beating him up.
They said that they used force to subdue him when he behaved in a threatening manner, and had many witnesses to prove that, but they did not explain the reason why he was smeared with turmeric powder on his face.
Can we expect them to say anything else? Is it not the tendency of any department to cover things up when they go wrong? Can anyone reasonably expect a department to investigate itself thoroughly when something goes wrong? No!
We definitely cannot trust the police to investigate themselves. That is the basic premise for the formation of the ill-fated Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), an election promise along with others made by former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2004 which was never implemented.
Clear evidence goes unnoticed
There have been more than 150 cases of death under police custody since 2000. It is amazing that hardly anyone has been brought to book for this, despite clear evidence of torture and mistreatment in some cases.
The many deaths must reflect thousands of beatings and torture by the police of those in their custody which never get reported or see the light of day, all in the name of getting detainees to give information and sometimes, not even that.
When very little punishment has been meted out, and hardly anyone has been brought to account, one can only expect the torture of detainees in custody to continue and deaths to occur.
The 2009 case of A Kugan, an Indian, had seen a policeman, an Indian too, charged in court when the scale of injuries inflicted on him clearly could not have been caused by one man. This prosecution was followed by widespread public outrage over Kugan’s death.
The pattern of torture against Indians in detention, the rough handling of Indian demonstrators during Hindraf’s 2008 street demonstrations, the lack of police protection which resulted in deaths of Indians in the Kampong Medan incidents of 2001, and now Sugumaran, are just some indications of racial bias that must be investigated.
But so long as the police themselves investigate this, there is no hope that there will be justice. The government must set up an independent body composed of multi-racial professionals with strong ethical values, and which is headed by a person of integrity and capability to do this.
Since Indians seem to be bearing the brunt of brutality the MIC, which claims that it is representing them in government, they must make a strong call for change and leave the Barisan Nasional coalition if there is none. And other members of the coalition, in the name of humanity, must make a clear call for police brutality to end – no matter who the victim is.
And the whole country must make its stand against police brutality and insist that checks and balances be put in place to stop it.
All that starts with one thing – getting an independent body to investigate each and every case of death in police custody, every single allegation of police brutality and misconduct, and bring the guilty to account without fear or favour. That’s the only thing which will stop police brutality.