This is a fascinating story. During my time in Cambodia, I read about, heard about, and even witnessed a number of incidents of mob violence incited by transport issues. In all cases, it was usually a mob killing a suspected/accused motorcycle thief. In accident situations, a crowd often gathers, but their mere presence usually convinces better behavior on the part of the involved members, at least until the police show up to force the socially weaker member to back down.
But in this story, a young boy appears to have fallen off/been pushed off his bike by traffic cops doing their normal trick of jumping out in front of socially weak appearing motorists to demand money. I’m surprised that more police doing this haven’t been killed by accident, since they are so reckless and sudden in these actions. But this story tells of a crowd which attacked the police officers for this action. As mentioned in the article, this appears to be the first time this has happened. And, if you read the story, you’ll see that the injuries sustained by the young man are not terribly awful. So what incited this response?
My suspicion is that the increasing anger and tension which have been rising consistently through the last few years against the police have been aggravated by the rising gasoline prices, and that a breaking point is simply being approached, when people are not going to be as afraid of the police as they have normally been. This could lead to a severe crackdown to restore ‘order,’ to increased promises to rein in corrupt cops (as was already happening to a small degree in early 2006), to all-out war on the security forces. What’s interesting to me is that anti-police violence is bubbling up specifically over the traffic issue.
It may also be relevant that this neighborhood is full of relatively wealthy and established families and shopowners, but that the vast majority of the people on the streets in this area are poorer marketers who sell cutrate clothing and shoes. The pagoda through which the police fled is almost certainly one of my two main temple fieldsites, which has long-established and strong economic and political ties to the police and would naturally have served as a type of sanctuary for them.
Full story here.
UPDATE: The police are looking for the ‘organized’ gang of moto drivers who they accuse of leading this assault on their supposed dignity. Good luck, boys.