Hong Kong police have never been known for brutality.
But the TVB footage of seven police officers roughing up a lone protester in the dark in the early hours of Wednesday not only shocked and angered the public but soiled the image of the entire police force.
The officers involved in the incident have been suspended from their duties, but the public is calling for heads to roll.
Reprehensible as it is, the police assault on an unarmed protester at Tamar Park should be seen in the light of the heavy physical and emotional pressure that law enforcers have been subjected to since the Occupy campaign kicked off on Sept. 28.
While there is no justification for the vicious act of violence, police officers assigned to deal with the protesters have been under tremendous stress — not to mention the exhaustion and lack of sleep — and have felt deep frustration for being viewed as the bad guys in the political drama on the streets.
Some of them may have become emotionally unstable and could be taking it out on the protesters as a result.
The police use of tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the protesters has ignited widespread public outcry.
A list of merchants and shops that reportedly joined a ban on doing business with the police began to circulate on the internet.
Next Magazine did some investigation and said in its latest issue that the list is authentic to some extent.
The businessmen have taken the action to show their disapproval on the excessive force used by the police on the protesters. “We have the freedom to choose our customers,” they were quoted as saying.
Sports Alignment, a retailer of custom-made footwear, has issued a statement saying that “the center does not welcome police to come and seek treatment, and we will also stop following up the case of existing patients who work in the police force until further notice”.
Dr. Wong Chunkit also posted a notice outside his clinic in Kwai Chung: “Please don’t come for medical advice if you are one of the policemen involved in the Sept. 28 crackdown.”
Wong has been receiving hundreds of harassing calls since he put up the notice. Some of the callers accused him of violating the ethics of his profession, while others even threatened to harm him.
The threats have kept his clinic from operating normally, but Wong said he doesn’t regret speaking his mind.
A pet shop owner in Sham Shui Po, identified only as Gary, said on his Facebook page that he won’t provide services and sell his products to members of the police force.
Many police officers found the public outcry deeply frustrating, noting that they were simply following orders.
So who should be responsible for tarnishing the image of the police? Apparently, it is the guy who ordered them to use of tear gas and pepper spray on the students.
When interviewed by TVB News earlier this week on who ordered the police action, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Leung Chun-ying gave this answer: “It was the on-site police commanders’ decision.”
The Hong Kong leader, on the other hand, indicated he was involved in the decision to stop using it.
Yu Jinxian, a columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal, has come up with another version. Yu quoted sources saying that in the afternoon of that day, CY Leung was in a meeting with the Security Bureau and high-ranking police officers.
On-site commanders would not make the call without a mandate from higher-ups. But Yu said “the boss” did give the go-ahead. Guess who’s the boss?
In Wednesday’s Legislative Council meeting, Security chief Lai Tung-kwok implied that police officers on the frontline wouldn’t have used a higher level of force if they didn’t receive orders from above.
It appears that CY Leung was shifting his responsibility to the police, while playing the good guy by saying that he stopped them from further using tear gas.
Regina Ip, chairwoman of Hong Kong’s New People’s Party, came to the defense of the police force, saying they have been under a lot of pressure since the turmoil started.
She might be right this time. They have been on duty for the past 19 days, getting the blame when something goes wrong, while their bosses wash their hands.
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