Police excesses must be curbed to mend fences in society

September 20, 2019 13:33
A water-cannon vehicle sprays jets of blue-colored water to disperse demonstrators in Admiralty on Sept. 15. Hong Kong police have faced intense criticism over their handling of the anti-government protests in the city. Photo: Bloomberg

As the Hong Kong protest movement stretches into the fourth month, the conduct of the police has become a major talking point and a fuel for growing anger among the demonstrators.

The reason is simple: as the protests have escalated, so has the "brutality" of the police, according to many people who have been on the frontlines of the street demonstrations.

The police have been accused of abusing their powers by resorting to undue or excessive tactics against the protesters, and also of differential treatment of pro- and anti-government demonstrators.

Once deemed one of the finest in Asia, Hong Kong's police force has slowly begun to change after 1997, and its “mainlandization” has accelerated in recent years.

In North Point on Sept. 15, riot police officers were once again caught on camera enforcing the law selectively, going easy on white-clad pro-establishment people who had been attacking protesters, while clamping down on young anti-government activists with an iron fist.

During an interview recently with Deutsche Welle (DW), Lynette Ong, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, noted that Hong Kong's police system was at one time considered the best model in Asia.

However, their tactics and brutal actions in the past few weeks have seriously dented their image, Ong said, adding that it will have an impact on how the people in Hong Kong view the city’s government.

Evasive and equivocal comments offered by the police when questioned over allegations of abuse of power have only added to the public's anger over the law enforcement personnel.

As a free society with a well-educated population, Hong Kong is an international metropolis where the vast majority of the local people are capable of thinking independently and critically. The citizens won’t easily buy into official propaganda and disinformation.

Obscurantist policies just won’t work in the city.

The feelings of hatred among many people toward the police are becoming deep, and the public's trust in the law enforcement agency and the administration as a whole has been lost. There is an urgent need to mend the fences.

To pick up the pieces and reduce the hostilities, the government should urge the police to exercise restraint in the way they deal with the demonstrators.

Also, a genuine platform needs to be put in place for dialogue and negotiations that will involve all stakeholders in society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 19

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist