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The use of force for law and order

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By: Nguyen Ha Huyen Van

“When the 250-pound guy sat on me, I cannot even move. So what is the point of hitting me?” said a distressed Ho Phuong, a twenty-year-old Vietnamese student, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Ho was beaten non-stop, not by a street gang but by the police in San Jose.

4The details of the case: four policemen in San Jose, USA were caught on tape and suspected of using excessive violence on a Vietnamese student.

San Jose has one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the USA. Yet, the San Jose police force is known to have a history of using excessive violence with the Vietnamese. Earlier this year in May, the police shot and killed a Vietnamese man by accident. Two years ago, the San Jose police had to compensate the US$70,000 for another accidental death of a Vietnamese man, this time involving the use of a Taser.

Ho was arrested on the suspicions of attacking his friend on 3 September. According to a witness, there was a quarrel between Ho and his housemate, Jeremy Suftin. Suftin apparently poured soap onto Ho’s roasted meat, leading to a fight. Ho then raised his knife, declaring that if this happened in Vietnam, he could have killed Suftin. This prompted the call to the police.

Outrage was the only word that could describe the public’s reaction to this youtube video, as Vietnamese and human rights activists protested outside town centre in San Jose, USA.

“The use of violence and abuse of police power is not acceptable and should be dealt with severely”, Nguyen Phuong Nga, spokesperson of Vietnamese Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry has directed the Consulate General of Vietnam in San Francisco for verification and to give consular protection to Ho Phuong.

While it looks like Ho was given what seems like an unfair amount of abuse, John Tran, a Vietnamese American who watched the video, thinks otherwise.

“If he had followed orders when the police told him to ‘Roll on’, he would not be beaten. Also, he was told many times to ‘shut up and listen’ but the guy still tried to argue”, he said.

Joan Tran is not the only one with this sentiment. Blogger Vang Anh also agrees. He reckons that this is because of a cultural difference.

In his blog, he said, “Here in US, all citizens must obey the police absolutely. The problem is that many Vietnamese in general do not understand this. Even when one is driving on the street without breaking any rules, he still has to follow the police’s instructions when he is stopped. If policemen can find any signs of protest, they can shoot. It is the law and order here.

Vang Anh also stressed that Vietnamese who are keen on coming to the US should know this and the departments concerned should educate these immigrants to avoid such unfortunate consequences. He said that this is not a matter of racial discrimination.

Tram Anh, a Vietnamese student studying in the US, even said that the Vietnamese police should follow their American counterparts, so as to eliminate street robbery and disorderliness on the roads.

However, even if the matter was a case of racial discrimination, it would be hard to sue the police. An article in VnExpress, a Vietnamese newspaper, states that the American police is protected by the City Council. The problem of handcuffing and beating ruthlessly the offender is prevalent, especially when there is no camera around. The only way to win the case is when there is clear evidence.

In Ho’s case, he might have a good chance of getting compensation, thanks to his housemate’s video.

Lam Nguyen from Texas, USA said “The common defense for beating an offender is that the offenders did not obey commands. The video has showed that there is no protest.”

Duyen Nguyen, Ho’s lawyer also confirmed that he did not oppose the security force. He only used the knife as a utensil for eating when the quarrel ended.

It would be some time before the judge rules the verdict. Beyond this case, the fine line still exists, the one between the use of force for order and for violence. Those treading upon this line, police officers and suspects, would do well to step with caution.


Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:14 am