When I first saw the photo of the man reportedly caught snatching about $200 from a fishmonger's counter in Chong Pang, my initial reaction was one of approval.
Good that Singaporeans are stepping up to fight crime, I thought. According to the Chinese evening daily Shin Min Daily News, the fishmonger's shouts attracted other stall-holders and passers-by. The alleged thief was caught; he struggled, but was overpowered and restrained with cable ties.
But as I looked at the photo of the bare-bodied man on the floor, with his hands and feet tied together, I had another thought: He must have been desperate to try to snatch money in broad daylight.
Many others felt similarly. The photo and article posted on The Straits Times Facebook page had over 284,000 views as of Friday afternoon. They drew 642 comments and had 602 shares.
One commenter wrote: "Tragic but may have no choice if person was violent. He will have no sympathy from his fellow countrymen too. However, too many cable ties but glad Singaporeans help to avert crime." It got just three "likes" as of Friday afternoon.
Another comment: "Too cruel. Feet and hands turning purple." 180 "likes".
Another comment: "He just probably got no money to buy food that's why he resorted to stealing. Just give him some food to fill his stomach. why must tie him up like this." This got 103 "likes".
Reading the views was heartening and got me thinking that Singaporeans are moving beyond a sense of solidarity only with their kin, to developing a sense of solidarity with their fellow men, women and children.
After all, it was natural for the market stall-holders to come to the help of the fishmonger. Common interests and friendship ties bind them. Passers-by getting involved is a sign that Singaporeans are overcoming their bystander reticence, and are more willing to step forward. Such communal initiative is welcome.