Al-Fatihah: Aminul Rasyid Amzah

It has been a year since Aminul Rasyid Amzah was killed by the police. Until today, there is no official apology from the police and the case is still in court, where the accused has been called to enter his defence, as a prima facie case has been established against him. But still, justice delayed is justice denied.

I was not at the scene of the incident, so I can not tell the truth behind the incident. However, I would like to give my personal opinion on the manner in which the police did the shooting.

This is not the first time the police shot suspects to death, as suspects who are under a remand order can also died in lock-ups. Remember Kugan Ananthan and Gunasegaran Rajasundram? Or should I remind you with two deaths at the premise of the police’s “brother”, the MACC? Teoh Beng Hock and Ahmad Sarbani? To make things straight, I have nothing against the police or the authorities. I know they have a huge responsibility to ensure that Malaysians live peacefully. But not everything can be settled through shooting or killing, especially when the shooting causes the death of suspects.

Source: The Malaysian Insider

Source: The Malaysian Insider

In this particular incident, the reason for the police shooting is questionable. I don’t think the police needed to fire multiple shots in the first place. The boy was wrong for driving without a valid licence and snuck out from his house in the middle of the night without his parents’ permission. But can that be a justification for the shooting? Moreover, if I were in his shoes, maybe I would do the same. Just imagine, being chased by several people in motorcycles and accidentally knocking a car. Then, suddenly being chased by police patrol cars. Any “Ali, Ah Chong and Muthu” aged 15 would probably panic in such a situation.

The police had reasonable suspicion to arrest him. Section 24 of the Police Act provides that “if any police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a vehicle is being used in the commission of any offence, he may stop and detain the person” [Section 24(1)(b)]. Section 24(3) of the same Act further adds that “if the person fails to obey any reasonable signal of the police officer to stop the vehicle, the person is guilty of an offence and can be arrested without a warrant.”

So, in my opinion, when the car had stopped, the police should have first told the boy to surrender. In some newspapers, they reported that the police shot the boy when he tried to run over the police while reversing the car. My personal opinion is that the statement is quite absurd. Based on several photos I have found in blogs, it is impossible for the car to go forward. So, logically, the police will go to the side of the car and not to the back of the car if they wanted to check the condition of the boy.

And some newspapers reported that the police found a long parang in the car. Is it just a cover up to justify the shooting? Nobody will ever know.

Nevertheless, the mother revealed another fact to reporters. The boy had already died before the car went over the side of the road and hit a house. This means that while asking the car to stop, the police had already shot the boy to death. I think this is intolerable. The police should not start firing at the car if they know that, by shooting it, they may cause death to the persons inside the car.

According to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable  in order to protect life [Article 9]. Article 10 further adds that the officials must identify themselves as such and give a clear warning on their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warning to be observed unless by doing so, it will unduly place the law enforcement officials at risk, or would create a risk of death or serious harm to other persons.

The point here is, the use of firearms can only be justified if it is strictly unavoidable.

Even in criminal law, the defence of self-defence can only be invoked if he is in imminent danger, with no other means to save himself from that danger. In an English case, Rashford (2005) All ER 192, the question in that case was whether the defendant feared that he was in immediate danger from which he had no other means of escape; if the violence he used was no more than appeared necessary to preserve his own life or protect himself from serious injury, he would be entitled to rely on self-defence. The keyword here, besides imminent danger, is the proportionality of the attack.

Thus, did the police fire a warning shot before firing at the boy’s car, and subsequently at the boy? Next, did the boy fire back or use other means to attack the police and put the police in imminent danger?

The police have many powers in order to prevent crimes, but that does not includes shooting a suspect to death. According to Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. This means that a person should be considered innocent until it can be proven that he is guilty. If a person is accused of a crime, he should always have the right to defend himself. Nobody has the right to condemn him and punish him for something he has not done.

So, is there any proof to show that the boy is guilty? Even under Article 11 of the UDHR, he is innocent until he is proven guilty. The police must also remember that a suspect is not necessarily guilty. The word suspect itself shows that the suspect is not yet guilty but that it is just suspected that he may have committed a crime.

A fatal shot will cause death to the suspect. If the suspect is dead, how can the police tender evidence to show that he is guilty? How can the investigation continue when the suspect himself is dead?

Khairul Idzwan read law in UiTM and is now chambering. He misses his law school days. He blogs at http://kairulizwan.wordpress.com.


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Posted on 16 May 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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9 Responses to Al-Fatihah: Aminul Rasyid Amzah

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  2. Yes John. In other words, we need to transform the whole PDRM. I believe that it can actually be done. It may take some time but it can and need to be done.

    They are capable to follow the rules of engagement and other rules provided that:

    1. They are paid handsomely as their job is not an easy job

    2. Enforcement needs to be stringent.

    I am pretty sure that we are lacking No. 2. If enforcement is strict, I am sure that procedures will be followed to ensure that they are not going to be punished.

    Cheers!

  3. Khairul, by any standard, the Malaysian police are poorly educated, poorly selected and poorly trained. They are also overworked, underpaid and ill-equipped. Tragically, over time, this makes them particularly susceptible to becoming psychopaths or sociopaths.

    A psychopath guns down a fleeing suspect because he believes the suspect deserves it. A sociopath guns down a fleeing suspect because he doesn't care.

    The problem here isn't the rules of engagement. It's the fact that Malaysian officers are incapable of following them. Frankly, they are mentally and emotionally deficient. It's like expecting a 7-year-old child to absorb, comprehend and practice lessons learned from a Form Five textbook. It's just not going to happen. Not without a major overhaul.

  4. Thanks John! That's a very good opinion of yours. I agreed with you in most part. However, when you said:

    "You can’t see straight. Can’t think straight. You perspire so much that your palms are slick with sweat. Your gun feels slippery in your hands. Your body is shivering and tingling. You have lost all fine motor skills. Time is blurry, distorted. And bang. You hear an explosion.",

    I can't stop thinking, shouldn't that be the reason for the police not to shoot? As far as I am concerned, there is SOP to be followed by the police before they open fire. So, did they follow the SOP in this particular incident?

    I admit, both parties i.e. Allahyarham Aminul Rasyid and the police were wrong. But the thing that led me to write this piece of writing is the manner in which the police did the shooting. I am of the opinion that shooting cannot be executed at will. Procedures must be followed and it must be executed only when unavoidable.

  5. Khairul, firearms present numerous psychological and physiological problems, especially if they are used in a stressful and emotionally charged situation.

    You’re in a pursuit of a suspect. Your heart is thundering in your chest, in your ears. Tunnel vision takes over. You can’t see straight. Can’t think straight. You perspire so much that your palms are slick with sweat. Your gun feels slippery in your hands. Your body is shivering and tingling. You have lost all fine motor skills. Time is blurry, distorted. And bang. You hear an explosion. Good God. Your mind freezes, and your mouth goes dry as chalk. You jerk into a defensive posture. Is that a vehicle’s tailpipe backfiring? Or is that a gunshot? You struggle to think about the rules of engagement, but damn it, there’s another explosion. And you panic and return fire, intending it as a warning shot. But, shaking and sweating, you miscalculate, and it’s a kill shot instead.

    The first issue here is what is known as the adrenalin dump. A person under the influence of adrenalin doesn’t stop to think about the rules of engagement. In fact, he doesn’t think at all. He either freezes up or lashes out. No in between.

    Which brings me to the second issue: force drift.

    It’s the tendency among users of violence to apply it more and more, and with greater and greater intensity, because they believe that if some violence is good, then all violence is good.

    This is particularly true in cultures that hierarchical and where feudalism is ingrained. Where authority and permissiveness of violence flows from the top down.

    In Malaysia, especially, this creates mixed messages that serve to confuse rather than clarify. For example, many Malaysian parents inflict violence on their children as part of discipline. However, force drift inevitably occurs and ripples throughout society and becomes becomes entrenched as a default position — violence is permissable in order to discipline those who are weaker and subordinate.

    By the time it reaches the front line of law enforcement and firearms enter the equation, violence becomes an almost amplified knee-jerk reaction.

    Tasering someone is good in theory, but a taser has a very limited range and a very limited application. And in a third world country like Malaysia, where professional training is spotty at best, using a taser is less likely to happen in a fight-or-flight situation.

    Furthermore, tasering someone just doesn’t have the same sort of prestige within the Malaysian police compared to gunning suspects down. A bodycount not only cuts through red tape, but it actually accelerates an officer’s promotional path.

    All armchair criticism aside, you will not see a change in front-line attitudes until you address the cultural roots of homegrown violence in Malaysia. And to do that, you have to pay attention to human instinct and reaction as opposed to cut-and-dried academics that bear no resemblance to actual conditions on the ground.

  6. John – I've never handled a firearm before. The closest I had was handling firearms in counter-strike game, if it is counted. :)

  7. Khairul, good article. I'm curious, though — have you ever personally handled a firearm? Cheers.

  8. Antares – There will be no normalcy or decency if the police are still allowed to fire at will. You know what, sometimes when I watch American police series, I really wish that the police use stun gun instead of a real gun, when they are chasing suspects.

  9. Exactly, Khairul. Very level-headedly argued. PDRM are totally out of line shooting to kill before they even know who they are chasing and why. In a land where errant, trigger-happy cops are hardly ever brought to book or sacked for misconduct and/or incompetence, this sort of lethal malpractice can only be expected to worsen. But how can we expect any degree of "normalcy" or "decency" to prevail when the seniormost civil servant is still operating under a massive cloud of suspicion for his direct or indirect involvement in the cold-blooded murder of a foreign national?