Heading for a police state
published : 7 Dec 2014 at 06:00
newspaper section: News
I have been reading with some concern about what appears to be the increasing occurrence of spot urine testing of mainly Western males in the Thong Lor and Asoke areas of Bangkok, but did not personally know anyone that had been subjected to this until this week.
A friend of mine arrived in Bangkok on Thursday to begin a two-week holiday that would have taken in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Krabi. It was his first visit to the Kingdom. His hotel was in the Asoke area. On Friday, his second day here, he was heading back to his hotel mid-afternoon when he was accosted by police and subjected to the same intimidation and humiliation as other victims have reported.
When I met him on Friday evening he was clearly still shaken up, so much so that he decided to call off the rest of his holiday here and instead flew to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday morning to spend the rest of his vacation there and in Singapore. He described the incident as "frightening" and vowed never to return to Thailand again. He said he would advise anyone planning to come here, either for work or a holiday, to think again.
There is now even a Facebook page dedicated to sharing the experiences of many people who have been subjected to this. The Tourism Authority of Thailand can pay the biggest PR firms in the world to promote the country, but with people becoming increasingly aware that they can be harassed, shaken down and potentially imprisoned after coming here, no campaign, no matter how swish, will recover the country's image.
Long before the so-called Arab Spring I lived and worked in Syria for a year, which was then a de facto police state. There, like here, the police force was not regarded by the expat community (or the vast majority of locals) as an entity to serve and protect, but rather to be avoided at all costs. When I first arrived in Thailand eight years ago I never imagined I would be finding comparisons between the Kingdom's security apparatus and that of the Assad regime, but there you have it.
PERCEPTIONS AND Prejudice
The recent spate of letters about the Michael Brown shooting are prime examples of how prejudice distorts perceptions, particularly where skin colour is concerned. When truth is the first casualty, the net result does neither side credit.
There is undoubtedly something very wrong with the way many police in America respond to those who are perceived to be a threat, and with how those police who do overreact are subsequently absolved of all blame.
John Crawford (a 22-year-old black man) was shot and killed by police in a Walmart after picking up a toy BB gun in the store. The police never checked with Walmart staff and the Walmart security video clearly shows him facing away from the police when he was shot, seconds after they arrived in response to a customer's call. The two police officers who shot him were not charged.
Eric Garner (a 43-year-old black man) died when he was put in a choke-hold by an NYPD officer while allegedly selling one pack of untaxed cigarettes. The police officer was not charged, even though the death was ruled a homicide and the choke-hold was specifically prohibited by NYPD policy.
Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old black boy) was shot and killed by police while playing with a toy pistol in a park, shot within two seconds of the police arriving on the scene as the police officer opened the car door. Something is very seriously and very clearly wrong.
On the other hand, the media widely reported that twice as many blacks are arrested in Ferguson as whites, suggesting this shows racial bias on the part of the police. What they generally failed to report was that there are more than twice as many blacks as whites in Ferguson, where blacks make up 68% of the population. Whether these shootings and deaths were justified or not, nobody gains any credibility by distorting the facts for their own ends — particularly when any distortion is unnecessary.
One rule for the West
Last year the US Ambassador imposed a travel advisory warning against travel to Thailand during the anti-government demonstrations.
It didn't take long for the sheep to follow, including European countries and my native Canada. In fact when I left Canada in October, the travel advisory was still in effect.
Has anyone heard about Thailand imposing a similar travel advisory since the rioting and demonstrations in the US?
Hang up on false gods
Re: "Train kills 'phone' woman" (BP, Dec 6).
A woman was hit by a State Railway of Thailand train in Kanchanaburi's Tha Maka district while crossing the tracks. She was talking on her mobile at the time. I hope no one blames the SRT.
We have created a society that has deified mobile communications devices, from the simple 500 baht units to the expensive smartphones and tablets. Most people rely on and have put their entire lives into these things.
For this woman not to have seen or heard an approaching train, there is no logical explanation.
In this case, her deified mobile phone did indeed cost her a valuable asset. Her life. She should have shut her mouth, removed the phone from her ear, looked both ways and listened before crossing the tracks, the same as crossing a street. From me, not a tear or an iota of sympathy.
Fire safety first
Re: "Aetas not only culprit" (PostBag, Dec 6).
In his letter Richard Mabbit states the reason for the 10m-wide rule limiting building heights on small streets is that the roads cannot cater to the volumes of traffic created by large residences.
As an urban planner, Richard should know the fundamental reason for the rule is, in fact, one of safety, because fire trucks cannot properly extend their ladders higher than about eight stories.
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