SINGAPORE - The flipping and burning of vehicles during the Little India riot last December may have shocked Singapore, but it bought ASP Jonathan Tang something important: time.
Giving My Paper a blow-by-blow account, the officer who initially managed the riot said: "Every vehicle they damaged bought me more time. I got at least 15 minutes more. Let them be occupied, I thought. As long as they are not going around setting fire to the shophouses, I am okay, you know. Because this is police car, you can replace it."
The flipping and burning frenzy took place as ASP Tang waited desperately for reinforcements from the Special Operations Command to bring the riot under control.
When he first arrived at about 9.40pm, ASP Tang nudged his way through a large unruly crowd to the bus under which a man lay pinned. It was this accident that had triggered the riot.
He wanted to extricate the body, but even bending down to examine it came with risk.
"Anytime I bend down, they can just hit me on the back of the head, and that's it, you know," he said.
Next was trying to remove a bus attendant from the scene. He said: "She will shout, and the crowd will shout back at her. I figured, you know, she is also the one inciting the crowd."
Then, he wanted to rally whoever he could, move them from the heat of the action, and redeploy them, so that the police were surrounding the rioters instead of the other way round.
After walking around twice, he found just 10 to 12 men. He spotted an ambulance with a driver, and decided to take advantage of it as moving on foot would have been difficult and dangerous.
Squeezed in an ambulance with his men, ASP Tang realised they were wedged between two vehicles.
He made the call to push the police car out of the way with the ambulance, knowing it belonged to Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre, where he was from. But, suddenly, the flipping frenzy came to his rescue and there was no more need for that.
A crowd had gathered around the car, poised to flip it. He recounted his thoughts at the time, his excitement apparent.
He said: "You flip now, you flip already, you move apart leh. They moved apart lah!"
That was how he managed to get to Bukit Timah Road with his men. He got them to form a line, wondering when to move forward.
He said: "I just held it off as long as possible. Because I am sending my men, I have only 10, 12. If none of them comes back, I have nothing to deal with it (the riot) again."
That's when the crowd started flipping and burning the vehicles and bought him more time.
When the Special Operations Command arrived, it was the "happiest point" for him.
The incident may have lasted just a short while but, to ASP Tang, it felt like a lifetime.
He said: "I looked at my watch, and I think I saw only 10 plus. I said oh man, not even half the shift over yet. I thought the morning sun will be rising soon. But it wasn't even midnight."
ASP Tang, now posted to the Criminal Investigation Department, was one of five police officers who received Commendation medals in this year's National Day Awards.
The others were ASP Edwin Yong, SSGT Mydeen Sahul Hameed, SSGT Mak Chung Kit and SSI (2) Akhbar Hj Ali.
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