Thursday, June 11, 2020

The police fan the flames of protest far more than they quell it

It apparently requires six police officers to deal with
one minor lawbreaker in Hong Kong these days

Police convoy (including one water cannon truck!) parked
on the road near Victoria Park earlier this week

I went for a walk earlier this evening that was distinguished by it being the first time I had been out in Hong Kong for weeks and not caught sight of a single police officer or vehicle along the way.  Maybe they're resting ahead of tomorrow, the one year anniversary of the day when the local constabulary's shocking over-reactions to an anti-extradition bill protest taking place at Admiralty got me wondering if it was the end of Hong Kong as we knew it.  In any case, the fact that I found the streets being bereft of cops remarkable points to how much Hong Kong has changed over the past year.  

Two related things that are very different from the previous norm is that the police are more likely to move around in motorized vehicles these days than on foot, and that it no longer is the case that you'd see a police officer walking around on his or her own (a la the lovelorn cop protagonists found in Chungking Express)Instead, the minimum number of uniformed officers one is likely to see at any one time these days is three -- with six and eight even now being a common number for regular patrols or to do such as deal with a motorist who parked her car on a section of road with a double yellow line!  

Still uncommon but sadly no longer unheard of is to catch sight of one of the Hong Kong police's three riot control water cannon trucks on one of Hong Kong's main shopping streets -- or even close by to one's neighborhood.  And increasingly, it really can feel like the streets are crawling with far more police than one feels comfortable catching sight of -- even if one actually hasn't done anything illegal or otherwise wrong.  

Talk about overkill: on the way to buy a book and then meet with a friend two evenings ago, I passed by, and near, over thirty police vehicles (including one of those water cannon trucks and an armored truck that looks like it should be restricted to war zones) and hordes of riot police.  At the bookstore, I told the staffer what the scene was like outside.  Rather than be shocked or scared, we ended up concluding that "It seems they are so afraid of us" and actually had a little laugh about it -- not the kind of reaction I'm sure the authorities would want or expect!

As it so happens, all that police presence failed to stop a bunch of those who wanted to protest that evening from doing so.  And yes, there were more arrests and pepper balls fired -- for sad but true, this has now become par for the course these days along with the police pepper spraying journalists -- but I really don't think that the police are going to put out the fire in the bellies and hearts of Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors.  (Indeed, to judge from the events of last year and also September 28th, 2014, their attempts to suppress only end up majorly fanning the flames!)

More than incidentally, the book I bought this past Tuesday was Kong Tsung-gan's Liberate Hong Kong: Stories from the Freedom Struggle.  I've already finished reading it and would highly recommend it along with two other books about the protests that now have been going on for more than a year now: Antony Dapiran's City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong; and After Shock: Essays from Hong Kong, the latter of which is edited by Holmes Chan and features writing by a number of young local journalists (including Rachel Cheung, Sum Lok-kei and Jessie Pang) who I have come to respect and admire over the course of this past year. 

No comments: