by Solomon Lim on

Today, an Nparks officer is in hospital with serious injuries because of a senseless act of violence.

The safe distancing officer had been putting up SafeEntry signs with a fellow colleague at the Sungei Serangoon Park Connector at about noon yesterday (May 4) when he approached a man who was cutting plants illegally. The man, who was not wearing a mask, then allegedly attacked him with a sharp instrument and fled on a bicycle.

The 61-year-old man was later tracked down and arrested for attempted murder.

Any unprovoked attack on any person, public servant or otherwise, is a disgusting act. Science fiction author Isaac Asimov once wrote that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. Half-truth as it may be, we pride ourselves in being a society where we take to our thoughts before we take to our fists.

So it is easy for us to read this report and exclaim to ourselves: “I would never do this!” The outlandish and violent response to a simple request is so far out of the realm of ordinary behaviour for us that we dismiss this as an outlier to normal society, profess the correct amount of outrage, and move on.

Shunfu market woman safe distancing
Image Source: Marceino Tng / Facebook, Stomp

In another case, a 40-year-old woman was arrested yesterday (May 4) after she allegedly attacked someone who had reminded her to put on her mask at Shunfu Market. She was arrested for assault on a member of the public, creating a public nuisance and for not wearing a mask. This was not her first brush with the law, as she had previously been fined $300 for not wearing a mask and eating in the public dining area of a hawker centre. In the previous incident, she had been advised by SG Clean Ambassadors to practise safe distancing but ignored them. She took pictures and videos of the ambassadors when they advised her to leave and was also uncooperative with police, videoing the engagement when they were called in.

Similarly for this case, even though the woman was not violent, she was aggressive in her words and demeanour, not just to the people around her who were trying to get her to wear a mask (one of whom even offered to give her one, only to be rudely rebuffed), but also to the police officers who were at the scene at both times.

Then there’s this guy.

Perhaps these incidents are all abnormal. Perhaps they are just isolated cases in a largely peaceful circuit breaker period. But ask yourself. How do you feel when you’re out getting food or essentials and you spot a police officer or an SG Clean Ambassador or any of the other safe distancing officers doing their job? Do you frown and sigh in annoyance and give them a wide berth? Or at best, just breeze past them with a kind of uninterested ignorance?

Contrast your reaction when you read today’s news on Covid-19 cases in the public healthcare sector. A facilities manager at NCID, a doctor at Changi General Hospital and a volunteer worker at the Singapore Expo: All stricken with coronavirus as a result of their working to help fight the disease.

We laud our frontline workers. We encouraged our healthcare heroes, our transport providers, even our delivery riders. They all help to keep our country chugging along as we huddle in our homes during the circuit breaker. We write them cards of encouragement, present gifts of appreciation, and even get inspired by them to give back to society. And rightfully so, they deserve all the praise they get because they are working tirelessly to keep us safe, and get Singapore and all who live here back on our feet.

Safe distancing officers are frontline heroes too.

I’m sure once you read this, it would seem all so obvious to you. Of course, these ambassadors are working to keep us safe, you say, what an odd thing to bring up. So, ask yourself this. How have you appreciated safe distancing officers recently?

No one likes to be cooped up. Going through the circuit breaker brings different challenges for different people. Some may be worried about jobs and finances. Others, going batty over having to battle family members in an enclosed space. Still some may be going stir-crazy over boredom and the lack of social interaction. Often, we try to take a breather by cooking up an excuse to get out of the house. Yes, it’s for “essential” things but deep down inside, we know that it’s a flimsy reason. Probably that’s why we tend to react to the sight of enforcement officers with a vague feeling of guilt and sheepishness.

In some cases, that could lead to combativeness and aggression.

Yesterday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli posted on Facebook about his shock over the attack. In his post, he said that such violence and disregard for safe distancing is unacceptable and reiterated that any form of abuse or attack against such officers is a grave offence.

He said: “Since the start of the circuit breaker, our officers have worked tirelessly and made personal sacrifices to keep Singapore safe. Many of them have taken on safe distancing duties, over and above their regular, ongoing work. They are unarmed and performing a national duty to keep us safe from community spread of Covid-19. They deserve to be treated with respect. Their families are waiting for them to return home safely each day. It is our collective responsibility to look out for them, just as they are looking out for us.”

He is right. They are heroes. We should look out for them, as they do for us.

My challenge to you is this. Flip the switch. Remember that enforcement officers are there to keep everyone safe. They are on your side. They are working tirelessly to keep Singapore healthy. They are frontline heroes too. So when you see them, give them a broad smile that can be seen in your eyes, give them a friendly wave (from a safe distance!) and otherwise remind them that “hey, we see you, we appreciate you too”.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the injured Nparks officer and his family and all of us at the Singapore Kindness Movement wish him a speedy recovery.

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