Yawning Bread. April 2007

Rage in safe Singapore


    

 

 

Lee Yuet Kong, a taxi driver, was charged in court this week with "causing grievous hurt", for driving his vehicle into Alex Lim Wee Chong, who is now in a coma. [1]

Alex Lim's car and the taxi had a small collision along Paterson Road on 9 April 2007. A little ahead, at Scotts Road, both of them pulled over as is normal practice, to exchange drivers' identification. An argument broke out and Lee, the taxi driver, refused to provide Lim with his details. He got back into his cab intending to drive off. Lim tried to stop him by positioning himself in front of the taxi.

Lee drove straight into Lim, throwing the latter onto the bonnet. Then he stopped suddenly, throwing Lim forward onto the road. Not only did Lim's girlfriend witness this, apparently so did a passenger in Lee's taxi.

Alex Lim, aged 30, and a financial advisor, has been in a coma since. He's had a part of his brain removed.

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In the early hours of last Monday, just outside a Clarke Quay bar, an off-duty bar manager (from a different bar) was attacked. Eugene Chua was so brutally beaten he died in hospital 2 days later. Exactly who did this and why has not been revealed but the police have arrested 2 persons in connection with the crime, and are investigating. [2]

By all accounts, Eugene Chua was very much liked. His boss described him as "a small, spunky, affable and hardworking guy", and his premature death at age 32 was deeply mourned.

24 hours prior to that savage incident, six teenagers were attacked by 16 young men near the Esplanade. The six claimed that the fight, which included vulgarities and racial taunts, was unprovoked. One of the six, Chan Voon Ho, aged 17, was so badly beaten that he suffered multiple fractures on his face and lost nearly all his front teeth.[3]

The police are now looking for the 16 other guys. Whether it will be classified as causing grievous hurt, rioting or some other offence is too early to say.

Then we have stories of schoolgirls engaging in "happy slapping", a form of bullying, where a group gangs up on a victim, strip and beat her and record everything on video to be uploaded onto the internet. Such brazen behaviour, I can hardly imagine.

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For some years now, I have been disturbed by how quickly Singaporeans resort to violence. Bar fights are common, as is road rage, but even if you're nowhere near a bar or on the road, you can still be beaten to pulp just by looking at the wrong person. "Staring" incidents, a marker of immaturity, can escalate into running battles within minutes.

Staring comes out of an animalistic instinct, where one party uses his eyes to establish his social rank over the other. The one who turns away first concedes.

In young men, with their testosterone impulses, self-control is already lower than other age groups, but when we stir in low self-esteem, then the challenge is perceived even more acutely. All the more, the staring party, whether initiator or responder, cannot afford to back down. That is why staring incidents leading to fights are typically reported among the less educated or the less economically well-off.

That being the case, a widening income gap and increasing financial stress for the lower half of society does not bode well at all.

Road rage, on the other hand, involves the better off and the well-educated too. We sometimes hear of people driving Mercedes Benzes getting into a scuffle after an accident. No social class is immune.

I just wonder if we are increasingly stressed out. Frustrated with working long hours at the office, or no job at all. Or lousy pay while the bosses award themselves huge bonuses. Congestion and crowding as we go from one place to another. Noise all around us even when we reach home, because the damn town council keeps giving out getai [4] permits....

Others would put the blame on screen and TV violence. Exactly how media portrayal of violence affects social tendency to violence is not fully established, but it should be no surprise if there is a relationship to some degree. Even indirectly, as in audiences imbibing attitudes regarding fighting for one's sense of honour, or group loyalty right or wrong, can have an effect.

I have long thought that Singapore over-regulates the depiction of sex and sexuality, and under-regulates the depiction of violence. Sure, people can be influenced by the depiction of sexual lives to adopt different sexual values, but rarely are there victims arising from those new sexual values. On the other hand, violence produces victims, almost by definition.

Moreover, I see instances where our justice system tends to be too lenient on violence too. In an earlier article The pimp and the cabby, I pointed out two court cases that occurred at the same time.

In one, a taxi driver tried to run down a pedestrian. Twice. He was given a sentence of 4 months' imprisonment.

In the other, a pimp was sentenced to 4 years in jail, twelve times longer than the taxi driver, someone whose actions could have killed another person. There was no suggestion that the pimp used coercion of any kind to run his business. His "boys" were willing sellers -- that's typical for male prostitution, unlike female prostitution where the power relationship is often unequal -- and his buyers were willing buyers. In other words, there were really no victims.

Besides the question of whether such a disparity in penalties strikes anyone as reasonable, there is also the question of why the police are devoting resources to chasing after victimless crimes.

Yet righting the balance in law enforcement, needed though it is, is certainly not the whole answer. We have to identify and address the social causes. They will be many and complicated. First though, we must understand that violence is a symptom of social breakdown, when people feel hopeless or powerless, or just so frustrated with a zillion other things in their lives, they lose control at a snap. 

Yawning Bread 


 

The law

Voluntarily causing grievous hurt is covered by Section 325 of the Penal Code which currently stipulates that it "shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning."

Strangely, the Straits Times reported the maximum jail term to be only 2 years and a maximum fine of S$2,000. I don't know where they got that from.

The government proposed last year to increase the maximum jail term to 10 years, but since the bill has not yet been presented to parliament, it doesn't yet apply.

It's not reported in the press, but it may be possible that the taxi driver was charged under Section 326, rather than 325. Section 326 is for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means. The law explains that this includes "any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death...."

A layman like me would believe that driving a car into someone should fall in the same category. If so, the maximum jail term is currently 10 years (to be increased to 15 years under the proposed amendments).

In fact, considering that the victim's life is hanging in the balance after suffering severe head injuries, I would be disappointed if the prosecutor did not charge the taxi driver under Section 326.

 

Footnotes

  1. Straits Times, 28 April 2007, Man in coma after traffic row: cabby charged 
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  2. Straits Times, 26 April 2007, 2 arrested for bar manager's murder 
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  3. Straits Times, 28 April 2007, Six teens attacked by 16 youths near Esplanade 
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  4. Getai was originally street opera with some religious significance, but nowadays it has degenerated into no-quality variety shows and endless auctioning of goods to raise funds for I don't know what causes. A tent and stage is set up in the middle of a residential area, microphones and gigantic speakers are set up and the noise pollution often goes on past 11 pm.
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Addenda

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