On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Keep race out of the issues

There are mindless people out there but I am certain that the majority of Malaysians are rational, moderate and fair-minded.

IT was an accident no one in his right mind would want to get involved in. A woman driver ploughed into a group of teenagers on modified bicycles, killing eight of them in the horrific 3am incident.

The 22-year-old woman, driving from Taman Pelangi, Johor Baru, slammed into the group because she could not brake in time.

The accident left behind grieving parents and a driver who was sent to the hospital badly traumatised. Police said the driver was not drunk or speeding when the incident occurred.

It was what followed next that was even more tragic. It probably involved just a small group of misguided individuals with a twisted mind but it has been heart wrenching for many rational Malaysians who care for the nation.

How could an accident be turned into a racial matter where the victims – whether the deceased teens or the driver – were viewed upon from a racial prism? But it did. Perplexing.

Soon, these racist remarks took a different form – it is alleged that the said driver was given special protection because her father was a rich tycoon with a Tan Sri title and he was close to the Johor royalty.

As ridiculous as it may sound, there were enough people who actually believed it. One or two actually called me up to verify the allegations, seemingly believing it too, but at least they made an effort to check.

The poor woman driver has had to move out of her family home since the accident. She is a shop assistant who lives in a single-storey house and she was certainly not hiding in a mansion.

At the time of the incident, she was driving a Nissan Almeira and not a powerful, luxury car. It wasn’t a BMW or a Porsche. Far from it.

Some angry netizens even posted her photograph, together with her address, on social media. Fearing for her safety, she left home and stayed somewhere else.

But the insanity did not end there. More idiots surfaced. They included a Datuk who allegedly posted offensive remarks about the accident.

The Datuk, who is a state Umno branch chief, was picked up at his home last week. One of his friends was also detainĀ­ed in Kuala Lumpur.

Initial investigations showed that both men, in their 60s, had posted messages on their Facebook accounts, alleging that the police could be withholding information on the case as the woman driver was believed to be related to a VIP. The two men were brought to Johor Baru and remanded to assist in investigations.

The Datuk’s arrest brought to three the number of people detained over the last 48 hours for making offensive remarks or racial slurs on social media about the incident.

The Johor police said in a statement that three men had been detained in a series of raids in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Perak.

Amazingly, the Datuk and the other man arrested happily posed for the media when they were brought to court, with one of them even flashing the “V” sign.

He posted on his FB earlier, saying he expected to be arrested soon over his remarks, seemingly enjoying the attention he was getting.

Last month, a university student was killed when a BMW travelling against the traffic flow crashed into his Perodua Myvi along Jalan Tun Razak in the capital.

The deceased was identified as Ahmad Alrefaee M. Azmi, 21, from Bandar Mahkota Cheras, and again, the race issue raised its ugly head.

City Traffic Investigation and Legal Affairs staff officer Deputy Supt Shafie Daud said the BMW driver somehow entered the wrong carriageway from the KLCC tunnel and could not get back to the correct lane.

The driver had continued travelling on the wrong lane and crashed into the white Myvi along Jalan Tun Razak near the National Library in the 2am incident. In short, it was a freak accident.

It is disturbing that in both these accidents, the issue of race was brought up. Perhaps, such a play of race has become more prevalent due to the existence of social media where mindless comments are posted freely.

No one cares if feelings are hurt or sensitivities are trampled upon. Old-school journalists like me (who started out in the print media) are taught – from the day we took up the job as rookie reporters – to keep race out of our reports.

We do not mention the race of those involved in accidents or in crime reports. It’s simple. We are Malaysians and really, why is there a need to identify the ethnic background of those involved? Especially when it is already an emotionally charged case if it involves fatality.

We verify our information. But now, fake news are forwarded by many, without much care and thought of the implication of their action.

Tunku Temenggong of Johor Tunku Idris Iskandar Ibni Sultan Ibrahim must be commended for his timely statement, criticising those who encouraged others to gather and protest against the woman driver involved in the Johor accident.

In an Instagram post, he urged Johoreans to stop turning the incident into a racial issue.

“Is this how civilised Johoreans behave? Stop playing the blame game,” he wrote, adding that he, too, had personally encountered teenage cyclists riding dangerously in front of his car.

He pointed out that the children were on the road without helmets or any kind of protection.

“Let’s not blame the parents and let’s not blame the lady driver. She has more right to be on that highway than underage kids on bicycles with no helmets and other protection gear on,” he was quoted as saying.

Kudos must also go to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and his men for upholding professionalism.

He acted swiftly and impartially against those who instigated a protest, which smacked of racism, and took action against the Datuk, who posted the offensive remarks.

Many Malaysians are saddened by the accidents, loss of lives and the impact to race relations in Malaysia but I am still optimistic.

There are bad people out there but I am certain the majority of Malaysians are rational, moderate and fair-minded. I have enough good relatives, friends and colleagues, of all races, who give me hope for Malaysia.

Don’t let the small number of racists (and these are people of all ethnic groups) spoil it for all of us.