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VULNERABLE: Someone, for his or her own selfish reason, can rile up an emotional crowd
IT was naive to think that last week's street protest would be peaceful, cheerful and full of Kodak moments. To have gathered seemingly to show unity of purpose in advancing one's democratic principles was commendable indeed.
To have shouted at the top of one's lungs in explaining the reasons for the gathering was also good, whether or not the explanation went down well with everyone.
No one should take anything away from the organisers for wanting to make their stand known. They have a right to do so. Not everybody agrees with the organisers' point of view. And not everybody agrees with the manner in which they want to promote their opinion.
It's also to be expected that such a rally would be noisy and boisterous. Not light banter, but hard-hitting with slogan chanting, name-calling and mudslinging, which, at times, turned provocative. Some also suggested that these loud protestations had been meant to provoke any way.
Even if certain sections of the crowd had gathered when assured that the rally would be peaceful, it was obvious to many that this would not have been so throughout. We have seen, on many occasions in the past, that it was not difficult to get the crowd excited.
Emotions ran high; the sight of policemen barricading Dataran Merdeka, the final destination of the crowd, was enough to get them upset and angry. The policemen were both an obstruction and a symbol of authority, something to be defied, and as we later saw, engaged in a street brawl.
Articulation by the organisers had served to get the crowd to the street. As many had anticipated, it was the turn of the crowd to do their part of the routine, aided, encouraged and swayed by their own beliefs, rightly or otherwise.
Other than fun runs, big walks, sports events and charity rallies, rallies of the kind we saw last week seldom have fun and games in mind. Even if they are intended to serve as a statement of intent to advance political principles, it would only be a matter of time before they turn unruly.
Last week's rally was not only unruly, it was ugly and violent as well. As many of us know, it was simply naive for anyone to believe, even for a second, that the rally would be peaceful and filled with snapshots of smiling faces and friendly hugs.
And, in true Malaysian fashion, the post-rally was filled with the blame game. "It's not us. They started it. Police brutality was everywhere. We came in peace." These words rang high throughout the week. Everyone was pointing fingers that the other side was guilty and they were innocent.
As is known, a mob is a mob. Someone, for his or her own selfish reason, can easily rile up an emotional crowd and get them to turn wild. We saw that last April 28. The world saw it, too. Such violence, as seen in other countries, can ruin societies, countries.
Police brutality? It would be easy to shout this. Crowd control? Many ways of doing this, but gentle persuasion certainly didn't work. I am quite sure, given the history of previous encounters, that there were people from both sides of the barricades who were itching for a fight.
What about the shouting and spitting at the men in blue and calling them dogs and other derogatory names? A common feature actually. I repeat: it was naive to expect such a gathering with such an atmosphere to end with hugs and kisses.
The police are not angels, mind you. Neither are they street hooligans. They are enforcers of the law, with their own mindset. But there may have been some bad apples among them, itching to lay their hands on the unruly demonstrators.
Then, there were allegations of the police attacking the media. Whoa! This is serious. Such allegations should not go uninvestigated. Nothing less than a full probe is called for. Lest we forget, a television cameraman was also attacked (not by the men in blue as shown on television). This, too, must be thoroughly probed.
What lessons did we draw from the April 28 protests? Are we going to tolerate such disruptions in the future? That the organisers have a right to gather and make known their stand publicly should not be questioned. But they have to be made responsible for the ensuing fisticuffs and beatings, or more importantly, if these lead to anarchy and utter chaos.