Why many people have lost their trust in the police

November 12, 2019 19:01
Office workers stage a lunchtime rally in Central on Monday. The driving force behind the ongoing protests is the strong urge among citizens to defend their freedoms, says the author. Photo: HKEJ

Ever since the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill movement in June, the authorities, vested with enormous powers under the law, have an overwhelming advantage over citizens taking part in the protests when it comes to power and equipment.

Our citizens, no matter whether they are peaceful demonstrators or “valiant” protesters, are at a huge disadvantage and at the mercy of those who wield state power.

In fact, people vested with public power are supposed to be subject to rigorous legal constraints.

Unfortunately, the government has invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, under which the chief executive is given immense powers, thereby opening the door to the "totalitarianization" of our society and dealing a shattering blow to the rule of law.

On many occasions, law enforcement officers are ignoring legal constraints and their own code of practice when cracking down on the protests. For example, they disguise themselves as protesters in order to make arrests without showing their police warrant cards.

The abuse of power and the use of excessive force by the police against protesters and even ordinary citizens have infuriated the people.

On Monday morning, a traffic police officer fired three live rounds, one of which hit a protester at close range, in Sai Wan Ho.

As a consequence, anti-police brutality has become a major new theme of the resistance movement.

The Hong Kong police, once seen as "Asia's finest", used to have good relations with the citizens. But those days are gone. The mutual trust between the police and the citizens is on the brink of total collapse.

According to a recent poll conducted by the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, over 51 percent of our citizens have “zero” trust in the police, whereas only 9 percent said they have complete faith in law enforcement.

Several factors can explain why our citizens have come to distrust the police so intensely: trespassing residential estates or their car parks to make arrests, excessive use of tear gas and other weapons, etc., all of which are not only causing nuisance to the public but are also posing substantial threat to the personal safety of our citizens.

The heavy-handedness of the police has only prompted more people to take to the streets to voice their anger, and has also given rise to the “neighborhood faction”, i.e., ordinary citizens who rally against the police by the hundreds and thousands in defense of their own neighborhoods.

The driving force behind the ongoing protests is the strong urge among our citizens to defend their freedom from fear and their human rights.

The people of Hong Kong have long been accustomed to a social system and lifestyle under which everyone is entitled to personal freedoms.

Given that, any attempt by the authorities to impose restrictions on civil liberties will automatically provoke widespread resentment among the public.

At the heart of the core values shared by the people of Hong Kong are freedom, equality, the rule of law, justice, democracy and human dignity.

And once the party vested with public power is attempting to violate these core values through executive measures or forcible actions in the name of law enforcement, there is no doubt that the people will rise up to defend these values.

It may be true that some police officers, after months of intense confrontation with protesters, have become so physically and mentally exhausted that they have become increasingly edgy and volatile.

Be that as it may, the police must exercise restraint and avoid using excessive force against protesters and civilians because respect for human dignity must be the priority under all circumstances.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 7

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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