Wake up and smell the tear gas, Mrs Lam

November 21, 2019 08:00
Protesters clash with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 17. Given the recent events, it is being said that you are not a true Hongkonger unless you have smelled teargas. Photo: Reuters

Do the idealistic young people who fought to defend their university campuses from being stormed by the police have a stake in society? Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is on the record as saying young protesters don’t have a stake in society. Should we give up hope on these protesters? Annie Wu Suk-ching is on the record as saying we should write off two generations of young people.

An 11-year-old is among the over 5,000 people arrested so far during six months of social unrest. Does this child have a stake in society? Should we write the child off as part of a useless generation? The words of Lam and Wu came back to me as I watched young people endure tear gas and water cannons during the police siege of Polytechnic University. Somehow, their words seemed even more cruel and cold when I recalled them.

As a chief executive who is not democratically elected, Lam’s job is safe even if she says young protesters have no stake in society. The people cannot vote her out. To keep her job safe, she needs only say things that please Beijing, which pulls her puppet strings. That’s why she says young people fighting for their beliefs are rioters even before the courts have convicted them. She says it to please her masters.

It is equally easy for a wealthy woman like Wu, daughter of the founder of Maxim's, to write off two generations of young people. What does she care about 11-year-olds being arrested? Their only worth to her is the money they spend in her family's shops. Both she and Lam must now be rejoicing. Thousands of arrested young people have already lost their stake in society. Their future is in jail.

Annie Wu need not bother with writing off the younger generation. Our government has already done that by making surrender a prerequisite for letting students trapped inside Polytechnic University come out to face rioting charges.

Surrender? Only defeated enemies are forced to surrender. Is the government at war with young people? Are young people the enemy? Perhaps Lam should have demanded not only a surrender but that they come out humiliated and defeated with hands in the air holding white flags.

Now that thousands have been arrested, has the government won? It probably thinks it has. But win over what? Defeating the next generation? If that’s what the government defines as a victory, then it’s a Pyrrhic victory. A government at war with the younger generation is doomed to lose in the end.

To the Hongkongers who started out protesting peacefully for what they believed in, then turned to violence when Lam scorned their voices as not worth listening to, I say this: you are on the right side of history. When you feel hope is fading, sing Glory to Hong Kong. When you feel angry, shout “add oil” out your window.

After six months of a civil uprising that has seen deaths, severe injuries, and over 10,000 rounds of police tear gas being fired, Lam’s only strategy is to use police brute force to arrest as many young people as possible, label them as rioters and terrorists, and get the courts to throw them in jail.

Coming months and years will see our court system overstretched dealing with young people. Every young person jailed will inflict an emotional toll on the psyche of our society. My hope is that our judges will be more compassionate than Lam, who likes to boast about being a Catholic and a mother but possesses the qualities of neither. In being obsequious to Beijing, she likely forgot the teachings of the Bible, which says blessed are the children.

My hope too is that our judges give the middle finger to Beijing, which two days ago lambasted the High Court for ruling that Lam’s mask ban was unconstitutional. We need brave judges who will rule according to the law, not according to Beijing’s demands that they must rule in lockstep with the government to end the protests.

It is not the role of Hong Kong judges to help end the protests. They are servants of the law, not servants of the Communist Party of China. Ending the protests is the role of the government through a political solution, not through police tear gas and mass arrests of young people.

Lam and her puppet masters have tried to cover up the real reason for the civil unrest, saying livelihood issues are the main cause of the protests when the truth is that the protest movement’s main thrust is resisting the central government's tightening grip on Hong Kong. A frightening example of the erosion of Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy came when mainland officials said only Beijing, not local courts, can decide if Lam's mask ban is constitutional.

Young people need not despair that Hong Kong's elites have written them off as having no stake in society. They have found their identity through the clouds of tear gas. It is said you are not a true Hongkonger unless you have smelled tear gas. I have choked on tear gas many times during the past six months. I know for sure neither Lam nor Wu has come anywhere near tear gas. To them I say this: wake up and smell the tear gas.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.