The staggering turnout of 1.7 million people in Sunday’s rally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front is an unmistakable indication that as long as the government refuses to accept people’s demands concerning the now-suspended extradition bill, there will be no end in sight for the social unrest.
In retrospect, there were several turning points in the past two months that have fueled public anger.
Among all these watershed events, the indiscriminate attack by white-clad men on commuters and passers-by at the Yuen Long MTR Station on July 21 is definitely the most shocking and significant one.
The frivolous and indifferent attitude of police commanders at the scene when asked by media about the incident has put the entire police force in the firing line.
Even for moderate citizens who may have felt sorry for frontline police officers who were caught between protesters and the government, their sentiments toward law enforcement changed overnight after the appalling July 21 attacks.
A month has passed since the Yuen Long attacks, but so far the police have only arrested 28 suspects on unlawful assembly charges, and has officially prosecuted none of them.
In contrast, the police have been acting a lot more swiftly when it comes to pressing the much more severe criminal charge of rioting against a number of anti-extradition bill protesters.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said on Sunday that prosecutorial decisions by the Department of Justice (DoJ) did not “kowtow” to anyone, and that the DoJ is not under any pressure on prosecution decisions.
Yet it would be difficult to convince the public that the authorities are treating everybody equally like they have repeatedly claimed as long as the DoJ is continuing to drag its feet over pressing charges against suspects in the Yuen Long attacks.
It is understood that the police have already handed over all the evidence regarding the July 21 attacks it has collected to the DoJ for scrutiny. It is expected that the department will officially bring charges against the suspects shortly, even though it remains unknown as to what criminal charges these suspects are exactly going to face.
A source has admitted that it is likely there will be a public backlash if these white-clad people are only slapped with misdemeanor charges.
The police have borne the brunt of public criticism ever since the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill movement, and have been hit even more badly than it was during the 2014 Occupy protests.
And despite their concerted efforts at rebuilding public confidence in the force over the past five years, the police have once again suffered a shattering blow to their public image and laid themselves wide open to public criticism for both their actions and inaction as clashes between frontline officers and “valiant protesters” continue to escalate.
Meanwhile, as an initiative to ease public doubts and set the record straight on police operations, the force has relaunched its daily 4 p.m. press briefings.
However, it appears the daily press briefings have failed to deliver the intended results as citizens have lambasted the police for allegedly evading questions.
Yet despite the criticism, police sources said, the police force will continue to arrange for commanders from different districts to appear at the press briefings to take questions from reporters.
By doing so, the police sources said, the force will be able to provide the media with accurate information and allow those commanders to understand the focus of public attention.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, one key to stopping the violence and chaos in Hong Kong amid the political crisis is for the administration to learn how to de-escalate, rather than further fuel the confrontations in society.
After all, our police force is duty-bound to uphold law and order in society, but is not to be used as a tool to resolve political issues.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 19
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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