The recent tragedy of Benjamin Lee left me pondering if we as a society have taken the concept of efficiency too far. Efficiency is no doubt important. It keeps the wheels of administration turning. It makes Singapore economically viable. It makes life convenient.
But has the quest for speed and efficacy led to a society that is so process driven that it no longer employs common sense?
The open letter penned by Benjamin’s bereaved father was a sobering read that made me realise that it wasn’t just the police who failed Benjamin. It was the entire model our society is based on that led to this untimely and needless death.
First and foremost, we have guidelines in place from MOE stating that the school is obliged to cooperate with the police and “not stand in the way of the law”. But what does “not stand in the way of the law” mean? What is the law in the first place in such investigations? It would seem that in our blind adherence to the “system” we are not thinking critically or asking any questions.
Subconsciously, we have assumed that obeying the police is tantamount to not standing in the way of the law. Surely, the police are not the law? They are simply law enforcers who enforce the law in accordance to certain standards. Have we confused the law with the enforcers?
Secondly, what is the standard that the police should follow? Are these clear enough to ensure that both the public and the police themselves understand the remit of their rights?
Have we become so conditioned to accept everything that comes from a figure of authority that we don’t even question if there are limitations to that authority?
Isn’t that what happened here with terrible consequences?
The school has not hitherto demonstrated that it questioned the basis of the police’s investigations. Nor has it been proven that the school tried to keep Benjamin in school until his parents arrived.
From the way events have been reported, it would appear that the school did everything it could to comply with police demands without due consideration for what Benjamin may be feeling or thinking. It appeared that the school gave the police the benefit of the doubt without offering the same courtesy to its own pupil.
We are so conditioned to obey the law that we don’t even stop to consider what the law actually is. Whether Benjamin should have been taken to the station or remained in the school is not a legal issue at all.
“Not standing in the way of the law” does not mean that the school has to do everything a person of authority says without question or compromise. It would seem that all the police wanted to do was to ask questions. Could the questions not have been asked in the privacy and security of an empty office or meeting room?
It seems to me that the school administration did not even stop to consider the alternatives. It simply blindly complied with what law enforcement had to say without any thought to what the law actually said or what the objectives of the investigation were.
The police were guilty of the same “one size fits all” approach. So ingrained to “follow the system” that the officers did not even stop to think of different tactics for different interviewees.
Sending five plain clothes police to pick up a school boy is surely over the top and should be reserved for a gang of hardened criminals as opposed to a lone schoolboy. While I am not dismissing the traumatic nature of an outrage of modesty, it is not a violent crime that merits a team of plain clothes police officers!
Clearly, the police wanted to unnerve Benjamin to get the truth but has it crossed their minds that there are many ways to skin a cat? Plainly, the police only have one weapon in their arsenal – that of intimidation.
They assumed that a show of force was the only way to close the case without further consideration for what methods would be best to elicit the truth from different subjects! Another example of blindly following precedents without taking the time and ownership of the task at hand to think deeper!
Another issue of concern is in relation to the ascertainment of truth. Are the police simply interested in closing the case or in finding the truth? From the statements uttered by Benjamin, it would seem that he felt coerced to confess to a crime he did not commit because the police already pre charged him as guilty.
Has our quest for efficiency at all costs increased incidences of inaccuracy?
While standard operating procedures are necessary as a framework, they do not mean that we hide behind these procedures and throw our brains away. We still need to apply our minds to ensure that the right methods are being deployed for the right situations.
In this case, neither the police nor the school in question has done this. In their attempts to follow the rules, they have disregarded common sense, compassion and logic which led to this devastating but entirely preventable outcome.
Hopefully this incident will jolt us out of the false security of the “system” and force us to employ our minds in every situation and to take ownership and initiative. From the public outcry,
I am hopeful that lessons will be learnt. It is just regrettable that someone had to die for this debate to even begin.
Case of Benjamin Lee – Schools should know that not standing the way of the law is not the same as blind compliance to police requests