Little India Riot COI: Cops just had to assert themselves, says manager

Rowell Court RC chairman Lim Herh Kim recommended a total ban on alcohol sales.

FOREIGN workers who frequent Little India are usually "scared" of the police.

So if the officers had stood by their vehicles and asserted themselves on the night of Dec 8, they could have stopped the violence from escalating, said a restaurant manager who works in the area.

Mr T. Richerd Leo on Thursday told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) of how rioters would dash away after pelting police vehicles, seemingly wary of being caught.

The issues of whether the police did enough to control the riot has become a recurring question during the inquiry. And yesterday, committee member Tee Tua Ba again alluded to this when he asked if the police would have served as a deterrent.

Mr Leo, a Chennai native who is now a permanent resident, agreed. "Obviously people are scared of police and the siren. People are scared to attack them."

Mr Leo added that while most workers are not trouble-makers, there are problems when alcohol enters the equation.

This observation was repeated by shopkeepers and residents who gave evidence yesterday.

Mr Leo said that on most Monday mornings before his restaurant opens, staff have to clear litter and scrub vomit from the walkway in front, where workers would drink and eat packed food the night before. And with a lack of public toilets to cater to the Sunday crowd, workers usually stream into his restaurant for its facilities - making it inconvenient for customers.

Mr Lim Herh Kim, chairman of the Residents' Committee at Rowell Court, recommended a total ban on alcohol sales. He has lived in the ethnic enclave for 30 years and said that since limits on alcohol sales and public drinking were put in place after the riot, the estate has seen a huge improvement.

But a director of a provision shop, where 80 per cent of sales come from beer and liquor, told the COI that his monthly takings have dropped from $135,000 to just $35,000.

The employment pass holder, who did not want to be named, said workers had been consuming alcohol in the area for years, and wondered whether the clampdown on alcohol sales would prevent a repeat of the riot. "What happened was a one-off (incident) due to the traffic accident," he added.

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