The Good Samaritan may soon be extinct in Thailand if the police response to a recent road traffic accident becomes the norm.
It all started with a run of the mill hit-and-run. A tinted-window Mercedes (is there any other kind?) side-swiped a bicycle that was dutifully trundling along in the gutter, bringing down both rider and machine. Nothing life-threatening and the bike was damaged but repairable.
Not that the Merc driver knew. He was long gone.
The accident occurred within sight of a police traffic post/library (for those not familiar with the street furniture of Bangkok, these are air-conditioned boxes where police officers press buttons to control traffic lights and read newspapers). So a message was sent out on the traffic police radio network.
Having done his duty to his own satisfaction, i.e. without even leaving his seat, the traffic cop settled down to further perusal of Thai Rath’s analysis as to why he’d lost money on the latest Latin American football failure.
The radio message was picked up by a high-ranking police officer who happened to be traveling in the vicinity on his way to negotiate a loan at a money-lender-cum-massage parlour on Ratchadaphisek. The police general ordered his driver and entourage to divert immediately to the scene of the accident.
By this time, passers-by had come to the aid of the injured cyclist. One with first aid training suspected that the cyclist had suffered a dislocated shoulder and had fashioned a makeshift sling by ripping up a cloth banner advertising instant loans.
Another quick-thinking civic-minded individual had started taking photos of the fast disappearing Merc and other things that might be useful to a police investigation. Other less civic-minded individuals were also taking videos and photos, but with the simpler intention of improving their Facebook profile.
The arrival of the police general immediately changed things. The traffic policeman hurriedly stubbed out his cigarette, brushed off the remains of his khao bai krapao and rushed to snap off a crisp salute.
With his decades of valuable experience, the high-ranking officer fired off a series of instant assumptions. The cyclist, pedalling one foot from the curb, had obviously been far too close to the passing traffic and should be booked for dangerous driving.
The traffic policeman came in for criticism on two counts. First, he had failed to properly secure the scene of the accident with cones and Do Not Cross tapes. Second, he had failed to remove the damaged bicycle and injured cyclist from the roadway to ensure the free circulation of traffic was now blocked by the general’s minor cavalcade.
The general questioned the cyclist. Did he have a license? The cyclist, unaware that there was such a thing as a bicycle license, replied that is driving license was in the pocket that his dislocated shoulder prevented him from reaching. The general instructed his retinue to arrest the cyclist either for riding without a non-existent license or failing to show the licence he did have.
The general turned his attention to the passer-by treating the injured cyclist, asking for his medical license number. When told that, apart from the first aid certificate from the Thai Red Cross, he had no medical qualifications, the general ordered him arrested for practicing medicine without a license.
He then asked where the budget for the sling that come from. The volunteer medic explained that no budget was involved and pointed to the source. The general added to the charge sheet theft, wilful destruction of private property, and illegal restraint of free trade (usurious loans).
The general now spotted the passer-by who was recording the incident, including the generals’ own actions. He was informed that taking pictures of a police officer could be construed as obstructing the police in the execution of their duty. So delete everything or face prosecution.
And just as he was about to leave, the general spotted that the bicycle bell had been dislodged in the accident and was now lying in the middle of the road. He ordered that the cyclist be slapped with the additional charge of littering.
A farang in the crowd, disgusted at this capricious enforcement of law and order, stepped into the road to retrieve the bell. So the general had him charged with working (as a road sweeper) without a work permit.