I had an expensive bet with a friend that more than 200 would be arrested after the Bersih dust settled. The tally now is coming close to 500. I won. My record with him now is 2-0 in my favor.
In the beginning, the odds were against my favor. It appeared that the government had finally reached a kind of maturity to match a more political active society. The gathering crowd was not harassed and the authorities, apart from closing Dataran Merdaka with barbed wire, were largely taking a hands-free attitude. I started to think that I had entered into a fool’s wager.
There were some stupidity by the police, like trying to drive several trucks right through the middle of the crowd. Some irresponsible individuals threw plastic water bottles at the trucks. This trend would prove bad later as the situation deteriorated beyond anybody’s control after somebody broke the barricade to Dataran Merdeka that invited overreaction by the police force, which fired unreasonably tear gas right into a largely peaceful crowd. With the crowd spanning from Dataran Merdeka to Sogo on both Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Raja Laut and to well beyond Masjid Jamek, it is a wonder that there was no deadly stampede. (There was another large group on the other side of Dataran Merdeka, at the Bar Council; Marina Mahathir has story from the other side).
So, I had expected to lose the bet. That was until I saw on the road to Jalan Parlimen a troop of riot police was equipping themselves with their gears. This was probably an hour before the chaos began.
When I saw that, I began to retreat to the back, expecting the worst. I know how it feels like to be exposed to tear gas. I had no intention to go through the same experience all over again.
I did not know whether the riot police was just on standby mode or was preparing to disperse the crowd regardless of what happened. I am more inclined to believe the latter. The reason is that in the morning, plain cops were forming a barrier. The riot police riot in their full gears took over when it was close to 2 o’clock, the time when the Bersih sit-in was to begin officially.
Whatever the possibilities, the crackdown started later than I expected. So, I spent the time exploring the true size of the crowd.
The size was just amazing. This was larger than the first and the second incarnation of Bersih. I went to both and this sit-in surprised me the most. I had expected protest-fatigue. I had expected a smaller protest. I was dead wrong. This was bigger than anything Malaysia had ever seen. Anybody who thinks otherwise is probably a Barisan Nasional sympathizer, or an anti-protest couch potatoes dependent on papers like Utusan Malaysia.
Both my phone and internet connection did not work close to Dataran Merdeka. Somebody told me it might be network congestion. The funny thing was that, farther away from Dataran Merdeka, the connection worked. I suspect a jammer was deployed.
As we all know by now, the worst came. Some fools broke the barricade and the even more foolish riot police fired tear gas into the crowd of thousands without warning. The police could have arrested those whom broke the barricade, but despite the hundreds of police officer deployed at Dataran Merdeka, they chose to punish the thousands.
That made the crowd angry but they knew they were no match for tear gas and water laced with chemical. And so they retreated.
This was an angry crowd. Remember that adjective.
The anger was focused solely on the police though. It requires no brainpower to understand that. It was a concentrated anger against the police force and there were proofs to this. Civilian vehicles were let through. The medical team was cheered on and let through.
The police, well, water bottles were thrown at them. With kilometers of angry crowd, some police officers had the audacity to drive their vehicles through the angry crowd. This was utter stupidity by the police, always clueless about the situation on the ground, despite having deployed helicopters and paragliders in the air, in the era of social media.
The hostility and violence of the minority in crowd was regrettable and should be condemned. Yet, would you, being the sole focus of crowd anger, drive through a road filled with kilometers of angry crowd, at unbelievable speed that could cause roadkill?
Here is a proof of that stupidity and the targeted hostility.
More balls than brain.
The unnecessary violence by some in the crowd, and the stupidity of the police caused a police car to ram into at least two protesters as it was later reported. And the car was overturned by an angry mob. It is unfortunate that that is the focus of the mainstream media, and not the context, or the larger issue of electoral reform, or the lies of political transformation program.
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