Understand What Hong Kong Wants

Understand What Hong Kong Wants

Reflections on tear gas, protest and betrayal

Last Sunday I was at the Tamar government center in Hong Kong. Like the majority of the gathered crowd I went not to cause a disturbance but to express my displeasure at the way the authorities were handling the student protests.

I even stood on the side among others who had obviously come to observe but the police fired a tear gas canister in my direction. It was unprovoked. The crowd did not push the police. There was no threat. That day my eyes were blinded by pain and tears, and my lungs seemed to burn. But far worse was the pain I felt inside. Four days later, as I write this, my heart continue to shed tears for the loss of an innocence that had once defined my home.

There are still people in this city who try to spin the events of Sunday to suit a personal or political stance. An old friend posted that the police should be commended for their actions. Another commented that regardless of what happens it is the protestors who have blood on their hands. “Who will be responsible for the stock market collapse,” he said. 

Even as the South China Morning Post was doing fine work reporting on the protest, some commentators continue to think it is a game. Post columnist Alex Lo may be right in stating that compared to the way police forces have suppressed riots elsewhere what happened on Sunday does not seem brutal. But the examples of excessive police brutality he lists do not condone what happened in Hong Kong.

Brutality is not measure by the strength of the blow. It is in the proportionality to the threat. Hong Kong people are not Londoners. We are not like those who rioted in Athens and Chicago. We do not, like protesters in China, see the police as a symbol of state oppression. We are not inebriated or drugged, nor likely to be armed. We do not represent a threat to bystanders. Public order is not endangered, and we do not loot shops or smash shop fronts. 

On Sunday I saw a frail young girl holding a yellow flower, a girl of such innocence and so unthreatening, someone who represented the beautiful nature of so many of our youth, shoved from behind and trod upon by a manic policemen in full body armor and armed with a shield and baton. The act was not extreme, but it was brutal. What made it so brutal was the girl’s innocence and frail, serene beauty. It felt like watching a policeman strike my baby god-daughter.

The cold, calculated arm-chair diagnosis of those who were not there, who did not feel the solemn, peaceful crowds, who did not experience the way the police deployments created the situation, miss the mark. They do not understand why Sunday was, without doubt, the saddest and most shameful day of my life. It may have been a miscalculation by our police and authorities, but a full, honest and transparent enquiry must be made in to how this could have happened. This is no longer politics.

The fact that our Chief Executive and those in the Executive Council who continue only to present the view from Beijing have not resigned makes me wonder if our government is even allowed to do so without approval from high. Let me remind you that all the students are really asking for is a dialogue and for you to listen to the views of an overwhelming majority of your own people. You submitted a report to Beijing around which the election framework is supposedly framed. That report was clearly not representative of public opinion. Is it unreasonable for the process to be restarted, and conducted without the manipulation and dishonesty that has come to increasingly mark our politics?

To those in the business community who found it acceptable to ask who would be responsible for the fall in the stock market, brayed for blood or found Sunday a joking matter, I sincerely hope you will come to understand this city beyond the money it represents, and to venture out beyond your closed social circles. Look at your sons and daughters, and see in them if not the politics of the students at Tamar but then at least that particularly beautiful form of humanity that marks our great city. Consider how safe this city feels, and how mellow and polite are our schools and universities, before you start defending positions that you must realize are being used to make a political point.

Sunday was brutal. But given the way the police were conditioned it could have been much uglier. Our policemen are still Asia’s finest, and we should be proud of them. I sincerely hope no frontline officer is made a scapegoat. Decisions made far above the front line, if not in the force than certainly in our government, are responsible for the shameful scenes on Sunday.

This touches on what is really at the heart of the protest – from the social and economic concerns that impact on our daily lives, the undermining of our identity and cultural values, to the people’s desire for democratic change. All Hong Kong people want is a government that will listen to their concerns and represent them within our nation. Any thought of separatism is not born from the child but from the father who refuses to see him for who he really is. In other words, all we want is what we were promised. It is not just the recognition of two economic systems that is enshrined in the Basic Law. It is two ways of life.

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