Little India riot: Questions remain after the riot

Little India riot: Questions remain after the riot
ABANDONED: A stretcher and medic's satchel lie on the side of Race Course Road in the aftermath of the Little India riot early on Monday morning.

It was a perfect storm.

All it took for Little India to turn into a powder keg on Sunday night was the death of a foreign worker in a traffic accident - and a mob, many of them fueled by alcohol, taking the law into their own hands.

The fiery brew sparked the first riot in Singapore in almost half a century.

Vehicles were flipped over on their sides and some set on fire. The bus involved in the accident was smashed and its interior ripped apart.

Nearby shops were damaged, with thousands of dollars worth of goods destroyed.

More than 40 people, mostly police and Singapore Civil Defence Force officers, were injured.

The remarkable thing was that only one person died - the unfortunate accident victim.

For that, we can credit the restraint shown by the police. No shots, tear gas canisters or water cannons were fired to suppress the rioters even when they were hurling rocks and other objects at the law enforcers.

Some netizens have questioned the capabilities of the police, pointing to videos showing officers running from their vehicles and an empty ambulance gurney rolling down Race Course Road.

They miss the point. It would have been only too easy for the police, who were armed and in riot gear, to resort to violence to take down the rioters. And in some countries, they might have done exactly that.

But violence often begets more violence and might have only made the situation worse.

The police said as much in a briefing on Monday in explaining that no firearms were used because there was no direct threat to lives and they did not want to escalate the situation.

Without their calm and professional response, I wonder how many more people would have been hurt or even killed.

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