Lau Nai-keung argues that police officers deserve our sympathy and understanding during difficult times in HK.
Politically correct nonsense is everywhere. Due to “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung’s efforts, prisoners’ hair styles are now a matter of human rights. Ironically, police officers are convicted of beating a protester who was found guilty of assaulting and resisting officers. Each of these cases, taken in isolation, is a reasonable application of our laws. But taken together, they have implications which go beyond legal issues. In the wider context, the rule of law is arguably weakened rather than strengthened by these rulings.
During and after the “Occupy Central” protests in 2014, the morale of frontline police officers fell to an all-time low, as they were ordered to deal with protesters who held illegal rallies and caused a traffic gridlock. From then on, police morale was lowered further without a chance to heal properly.
Junior Police Officers’ Association Chairman Joe Chan Cho-kwong has questioned whether police officers committed an offense by helping to defend barricades set up by demonstrators from anti-“Occupy” citizens who were trying to remove them.
“There were residents exercising their civic responsibility to remove illegal barricades in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay to restore traffic flows and order,” Chan told reporters during the “Occupy” protests. “Police did not follow the law and assist the removal of road obstacles, but guarded the illegal obstructions and assisted those gathered illegally to carry out their illegal behavior.”
Chan’s concerns are actually very valid. In the ruling of the recent case of police beating a protestor, the court found that two officers did not directly participate in the assault. However, judge David Dufton still found them guilty because “every police officer has a duty to prevent the commission of a crime” — even if that crime is committed by fellow officers.
Let’s apply Dufton’s reasoning consistently. On Sept 28, 2014, the police declared the “Occupy” protests illegal. After that time, any police officer who has not discharged his or her duty to prevent or stop the “Occupy” protests is as guilty as these seven policemen. Many Hong Kong people believe the police did not do enough to end the “Occupy” protests sooner. This responsibility falls squarely on the senior management of the police force. Why don’t we put senior police management on trial to see what judge Dufton has to say?
The rule of law is a systemic concept. It is meaningless to say that the outcome of this case complies with the rule of law better while the other one complies less so. More importantly, what happens outside of the courtroom is as important as what happens inside. No matter how fairly proceedings are conducted within the courtrooms, the rule of law is untenable if the Department of Justice is not prosecuting people who really deserve to be prosecuted.
Hong Kong is facing a moral crisis. Many of us, especially the younger generation, are no longer able to distinguish right from wrong. This all started when we started treating the good guys the same as the bad ones.
Police officers are the good guys. Public order is simply impossible if we do not have faith in them. Our police officers have also proven to be worthy of our trust and support. In recent years, they have had to endure lengthy shifts that are increasing in frequency. This is due to the exponential growth in violent protests, many of which take place on the eve of public holidays — when ordinary people would rather be at home with their family. The risk of injury is at an all-time high. Frontline police officers are being struck by bricks, glass bottles and wooden boards during these protests. If this is not a sacrifice then what is?
Many spontaneous initiatives are taking shape to support the seven recently convicted police officers. I encourage you to keep an eye on this case. Yes, these police officers may have broken the law, and if so they have to accept the consequences of their actions. But just as “Long Hair” was entitled to his choice of haircut in prison, these police officers deserve our sympathy and support — particularly when we carefully consider their actions.
The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.