Bread. August 2006
Political apoplexy and police priorities
There were about 7 or 8 of them, male and female, in plainclothes, with
tags. They arrived a little after 10.30 pm in a van, went into the club
and walked around, looking left and right. Going up to the two 'Mardi Gras
girls' who were dressed in bikinis, beads and feathers, they said
something about being scantily dressed. Had their presence been
coordinated with the management of the pub, Thumper, they asked? This then
led to a conversation between the police team and the management, but what
was said is unknown. The outcome though, is known. The girls' identity
card numbers were taken down, told to change out of their gear and leave.
The Mardi Gras girls were there just to pose with patrons for their complimentary photographs, this being the launch party for IndigNation 2006, Singapore's lesbian and gay Pride season. They were not performing on stage. But whether or not they were performing, why is it actionable to wear a bikini in Singapore? What shred of legal basis is there for the police to interfere, and how justifiable is it when measured against basic civil rights?
Interestingly, the officers either ignored or didnít notice the Tequila girls who were just as skimpily dressed. Tequila girls are a fixture of many pubs, dressed in short coaties that barely cover their bosoms and tight, tight shorts. They too show a lot of midriff and thigh.
What's the difference between the "scantily dressed" take-down-your-particulars Mardi Gras girls and the no-big-deal Tequila girls?
The plainclothes team stuck around for about half an hour watching the scene in the club, speaking to the management at the door, checking the premise's licences, crowd numbers and so on, and then left. At no time was the music stopped.
However, at about 12.30 am, the team leader was spotted again just inside the club doorway, but this time without his identification tag. Why he had lost his tag remains a mystery.
Thumper had been expecting them. About a week earlier, the police had phoned them, though what was said in that phone call I do not know, beyond a vague second-hand account that I received.. However, it was probably similar to what was said to Club95 and Tantric Bar, two other places that were venues for social events as part of IndigNation.
From feedback obtained from Club95 and Tantric Bar, the tone of the police's phone calls was an intimidating one. They asked, brusquely, whether these events were proxies for Fridae.com's banned Nation parties (not), who was responsible for organising them, and why they were being organised.
It is amazing that in Singapore, one has to justify to the government why one organises social events. It is even more amazing that the police officers could even imagine Club95 and Tantric Bar, each of which occupied a single narrow shophouse, accommodating anything like the thousands that attend a typical Nation party, an event that typically comes with multiple DJs, dance-floors and strobe lights.
But, as I shall explain below, fear banishes reason.
More to the point, why did the police behave in an intimidating way? My theory is that they want the venue owners to cancel the events. That way, there won't be any gay events, but at the same time, the police would be able to protest their innocence -- "But we didn't ban it!"
The owner of Tantric Bar was asked to attend a police interview in the days leading up to his event, Paradise 2006, scheduled for 5 August 2006. Beyond the aforementioned questions of who was behind the event, the intention of the police was evidently to read the riot act to the bar owner. Know and abide by the maximum crowd limit stipulated in your licence. Absolutely no kissing, though hugging can be allowed. "Make sure there is no immorality", they said, which of course is a bit strange considering that the government did license these bars to serve alcohol. Had they not heard that imbibing intoxicating liquids is immoral?
And here's the funny one: Nobody may take off his shirt. Isn't it so Singaporean? Do not unbutton your straitjacket.
But seriously, since there can't be legislation that outlaws this in Singapore, does this mean the police, by insisting on such a rule, are exceeding their powers?
The owner of Tantric Bar had the presence of mind to ask the police: what about Zouk-out and other beach parties? People take off their tops there -- why one rule for them and another for my bar? The police had no answer.
Likewise, though no one asked, why one rule for Mardi Gras girls and another for Tequila girls?
In the phone call to Club95, the other small bar, the police essentially said: make sure all your licences are in order and all conditions scrupulously adhered to. If we find even one deviation when we visit, we will not hesitate to prosecute.
The police also demanded that the owner come down for an interview, calling her several times even when she was in Europe. In the end, the owner felt so harassed by our guardians of law and order (the same people who are supposed to protect us from harassment from stalkers and gangsters) she gave up and cancelled her event at Club95.
So the bullying tactics work. One of the three IndigNation club events was lost.
Coming back to Tantric Bar, at their event, Paradise 2006 on 5 August, four plainclothes officers, all male, showed up without tags at 10.35 pm. They walked around the small bar for 5 minutes, inspecting the toilet and back exit as well, probably looking for violations of the fire safety code . I was following them, so I saw it all with my own eyes.
Then they sat out at the main door for about 10 minutes with the manager, asking questions about how many people were inside and what sort of customers patronised this bar. The point of such a line of questioning escapes me. So what if the customers are gay? Are we more prone to rioting or jihadism?
The above question sounds like a joke, but if it is, it's meant as a pointed one. The only way one can explain the bizarre behaviour of our police is through grasping that they do not know anything about the gay community. They're going about their jobs without bothering to know any facts. Instead they are operating on assumptions. What are these?
Here is my explanation then: Acting on these (mis)assumptions, when the police heard about IndigNation, they scrambled to make their rude phone calls to the various bars and to demand that owners and organisers show up for "interviews". Top of the agenda would be to find out if the dire security threat called Fridae.com is infiltrating Singapore again, after being banished like Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaeda.
But can't they see that they are over-reacting to gay Pride? Can't they see they are being irrational?
to HotAsian for this bit of
news that I had missed:
* * * * *
Singapore likes to bandy about the slogan "Diversity". The narrative above tells you how gays and lesbians view such pious pronouncements as something more akin to a sick joke.
But the point of this picture is still about silly laws and over-the-top law enforcement.
You see, since the police have been so busy watching and hounding gays and lesbians -- and training to fight "troublemakers" (i.e. civil society activists) who may come to Singapore in conjunction with the World Bank and IMF summit next month -- they might have no more time left to enforce other laws.
For example, rule 9(3) of the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Rules states:
Rule 14(2) states -
The photograph is of an illuminated poster near a bus stop. There are quite a number of them at prominent locations all over Singapore. It is a commercial advertisement for HSBC, a bank. Quite evidently the Singapore flag is being worn as a "costume or attire". So quite evidently, a law is being broken and the violation is flaunted all over the city too.
So why haven't the police arrested the CEO of HSBC and put him in leg-irons?
Instead, why invest so much time and effort hounding gays and lesbians over imaginary rules about shirts and bikinis and not enforce a real one about flags? As I asked above, can't they see that they are over-reacting to gay Pride? Can't they see they are being irrational?
Perhaps they can, but that is not the point. The point is not to be rational, but to respond to their political masters' paranoia. The political class sees gays as a threat to Singapore; the government has previously gone apoplectic over Fridae.com and their Nation parties, and and the police see their job as serving their masters. What has fair and rational policing got to do with anything?
The point is to cover your backsides and not risk getting a scolding from the minister. Fear of a reprimand from him banishes reason. Servitude overrides professionalism.
© Yawning Bread
to reader's comment #22 (8 August 2006, 12.45 pm) for this bit of news:
As the reader wrote, referring to the