Section 27(5) of the Police Act 1967 (Act 344) states that:
Any assembly, meeting or procession-
(a) which takes place without a licence issued under subsection(2); or
(b) in which three or more persons taking part neglect or refuse to obey any order given under subsection (1) or subsection (3),
shall be deemed to be an unlawful assembly, and all persons attending, found at or taking part in such assembly, meeting or procession and, in the case of an assembly, meeting or procession for which no licence has been issued, all persons attending, found at or taking part or concerned in convening, collecting or directing such assembly, meeting or procession, shall be guilty of an offence.
That is an interesting threshold.
In Malaysia, THREE is not merely a crowd but, potentially, an unlawful assembly, meeting or (if the THREE is in motion i.e. walking, strolling, jogging, or running) procession.
Be that as it may, there is an article in the Economist that reports about psychological studies of crowd behaviour that points to a finding that crowds are not necessarily negative or prone to violence as is feared by many law enforcement authorities not the least of which is the Royal Malaysian Police:
Crowds have a bad press. They have been blamed for antisocial behaviour through mechanisms that include peer pressure, mass hysteria and the diffusion of responsibility—the idea that “someone else will do something, so I don’t have to”. But Dr Levine thinks that crowds can also diffuse potentially violent situations and that crime would be much higher if it were not for crowds. As he told a symposium called “Understanding Violence”, which was organised by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland earlier this month, he has been using CCTV data to examine the bystander effect, an alleged phenomenon whereby people who would help a stranger in distress if they were alone, fail to do so in the presence of others. His conclusion is that it ain’t so. In fact, he thinks, having a crowd around often makes things better.
His first observation was that bystanders frequently intervene in incipient fights. The number of escalating gestures did not rise significantly as the size of the group increased, contrary to what the bystander effect would predict. Instead, it was the number of de-escalating gestures that grew. A bigger crowd, in other words, was more likely to suppress a fight.
Some incidents did end in violence, of course. To try to work out why, Dr Levine and his colleagues constructed probability trees to help them calculate the likelihood that a violent incident such as a punch being thrown would occur with each successive intervention by a bystander. Using these trees, they were generally able to identify a flashpoint at which the crowd determined which way the fight would go.
Judging the fight to begin with the aggressor’s first pointing gesture towards his target, the researchers found that the first intervention usually involved a bystander trying to calm the protagonist down. Next, another would advise the target not to respond. If a third intervention reinforced crowd solidarity, sending the same peaceful message, then a violent outcome became unlikely. But if it did not—if the third bystander vocally took sides, say—then violence was much more likely.
I hope that our law enforcement bodies apply some resources to better understand these studies so that the perception of crowds is deeper and more holistic.
Crowds do not necessarily become mobs. There is a difference.
All things said and, done, I'm still interested in getting to the bottom of the number "3". Is it, intriguingly, the legislative draftsman's sly, dark humour to give the idiom "Three's a crowd" statutory effect in Malaysia?
Wouldn't that be a deliciously perverse use of an English idiom?