It is like a recurring nightmare.
The stills from the online clip that showed a plainclothes policeman assaulting a traffic cop in Ho Chi Minh City after the latter stopped him for riding a motorbike without wearing a helmet have been printed again and again. And the clips have been viewed by thousands upon thousands of people.
Sadly, it was not a one-off aberration. Last month a judicial official in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho was arrested for attacking a traffic cop who fined him for speeding.
So law enforcers want to be above the law, and are upset if they are asked to abide by laws that are supposed to bind all citizens of the country.
It is downright ugly and embarrassing.
But it is much, much more than that.
It distorts the public image of officials who are supposed to behave with dignity and follow laws in all circumstances. When cops behave like gangsters, the message that it sends to "normal" citizens of the country can only be imagined. They will be confused about whom to turn to when they are in trouble and need protection.
When the law enforcers easily resort to violence, they attract violence toward themselves as well, as we have seen. What happens next is an important issue.
Living in an environment fraught with many risks and no one to protect them, people will resort to self-protection which sooner or later will turn into selfishness.
The fact that people who witnessed the latest assault on a crowded street did not try to stop it is an indicator.
When laws are neither enforced nor respected, from self-protection and selfishness, the actions will move toward self aggrandizement. This can be seen very clearly in recent reports about crowds who rushed to loot things when there was an accident. One man had his money stolen by passers-by after he managed to take back his bag from a thief and accidentally let the money fall on the street.
It is time for all of us to reflect on what is happening, but none more so than those charged with maintaining order. The country needs public servants who are respectful and sensitive to public needs, committed to upholding the law, professional in their conduct, and dedicated to their job.