Date
22 May 2017
A tense stand-off builds between the police and  protesters. Violence could have been avoided if the cops had not overreacted and used excessive force. Photo: Bloomberg
A tense stand-off builds between the police and protesters. Violence could have been avoided if the cops had not overreacted and used excessive force. Photo: Bloomberg

Why the Mong Kok hawker drive was violence waiting to happen

The foreign media called last week’s clashes in Mong Kok “fishball revolution” when police forcibly removed fishball vendors and other food sellers, as well as their supporters, from the streets.

In fact, the whole episode, which straddled late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, was over in a few hours.

By daybreak, things had begun to return to normal, and by noon, there were no signs of the violence.

That makes me wonder whether calling the clashes between the police and protesters a “revolution” or a “riot” is an overstatement.

Riot or not, the police response extended to the next day in a citywide search for those involved in the violence.

Meanwhile, pan-democrats who see themselves as champions of the social movement rushed to dissociate themselves from the incident and denounce all forms of violence.

Like I said before, all they are good at is paying lip service to the pro-democracy movement. When push comes to shove, they get cold feet.

This time was no exception.

To prevent this kind of incident from happening again, we must get to the root of the problem.

The clashes could have been avoided if the police had not interfered with the operation of the hawker control teams of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

The entire operation could have ended by 11 p.m. on Monday and people would have peaceably left the premises and gone home.

Instead, the sight of baton-wielding policemen armed with pepper spray might have provoked many ordinary citizens who were there only to celebrate the start of the Lunar New Year.

Brief scuffles in a narrow street outside Langham Place Mall quickly spiralled into full-blown violence that rolled across Mong Kok.

Our police force, still riding high after winning a war of attrition with pro-democracy protesters months earlier, allowed its success to go to its head.

Good luck to anyone who thinks the police should admit some responsibility or mistake.

We may have just seen a prelude to an even bigger disturbance. It won’t be long before we find out.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 16.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RA

HKEJ columnist

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