Obviously, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying underestimated the scale of the Occupy Central protest on Sunday and failed to anticipate that it could be peaceful.
If Leung had been waiting to intensify police action against the protesters if things turned violent, he could be in for a long wait.
It would have been impossible for the demonstrators to show such restraint in the face of tear gas and pepper spray if they did not follow their own rules.
At the time, Occupy Central organizer Benny Tai was on a platform outside government headquarters, away from the main staging area of the protest. Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement which was a prelude to the occupation of Central, was in detention until late Sunday evening.
The protesters reminded one another not to fight back after police tried to disperse them with tear gas and pepper spray. They stood their ground but refrained from provoking the cops — no taunting, no throwing of empty cans and bottles or anything.
They used umbrellas and plastic against tear gas and pepper spray — crude implements that showed they did not come to fight but to defend themselves.
They showed more civility to the police than the officers were ever capable of giving back.
When the officers called in an ambulance, the protesters gave way, instead of using it to break a police barrier.
Looking closely at the protesters, I couldn’t believe I was looking at people who are experiencing the kind of police action they’re facing for the first time in their lives.
Most were young people in their twenties and thirties who are too young to remember that Hong Kong has had tear gas used on demonstrators only five other times in the past. Some were elderly who may not have known that the last time Hong Kong police clashed with protesters, it was with South Korean activists who were demonstrating against globalization during the World Trade Organization meeting here in 2005.
Young ladies in shorts carrying handbags and thin young men with glasses were among the crowds. How violent can they be?
Sure, some protesters might have become edgy after experiencing limited mobile phone access but they did not panic.
At about 7:50 p.m. a hundred young protesters in Admiralty packed their things and began to leave after being told to move to the International Financial Center in Central.
“Come back. There’s no such plan,” they were later told after student group Scholarism posted a denial on Facebook.
Rumors were rife about an imminent attack by the police using rubber bullets and about the Chinese army moving on the protesters.
The protesters kept calm and mindful of the ground rules. That’s why we’re not seeing burning tires or overturned vehicles in the streets.
At 8 p.m. in Wan Chai, a popular staging area for protest marches, a protester suggested moving a passenger car parked on the roadside to block traffic. He was quickly stopped by fellow protesters. “Don’t touch any car,” a warning promptly went out.
Still, despite incidents like this, the protesters are not turning on each other.
They are focused on their cause and keeping the conversation to the issue at hand. They all want the same thing — true universal suffrage for Hong Kong.
They are pressing on with the protest despite being told by Benny Tai and Cardinal Joseph Zen, another key figure in the democracy movement, to go home last night.
But by no means is that an indication they have become unruly. There’s no evidence of that.
Some protesters moved road blocks and others threw tear gas canisters back across the line, not at the police.
That’s hardly an excuse to move on them with excessive force.
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