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Thursday, July 11, 2019, 20:08
Time to stop making an enemy of law enforcers
By Paul Surtees
Thursday, July 11, 2019, 20:08 By Paul Surtees

There has just recently, and rightly, been widespread online objections to the behavior of Starbucks staff in America, after they ejected a group of local police officers who were taking their coffee break in one of their shops. Apparently, another customer complained to the staff that their presence made him feel uncomfortable. One can’t help wondering whether this person was fearful of the police presence because of some guilty feelings of his own — for some other actions. In any case, this unpleasant tale highlights a very negative view of the police, a view which is unfortunately not confined only to criminals (who generally fear the police for good reason).

But a wide range of recent attacks against those serving our community in the Hong Kong Police Force leads us to ask whether the police here are treated any better than those coffee shop customers in America? For a variety of reasons, the sad answer at the moment is no.

These uncalled-for attacks have widened to embrace the bullying of the children of police officers at school; the release of personal information about police family members online; the regular vile and abusive comments by online trolls; attempted buttonholing of senior officers on the streets; the disrespect shown to officers on duty at hospitals; the besieging of the police headquarters and so on.The recent and very controversial public protests here have regrettably extended to all manner of attacks upon the young men and women in our police force. At the sharp end, frontline officers have been assaulted with lasers, sharpened pipes, dangerous chemicals, bricks and metal barricades, verbal abuse; they have also been spat upon and more. 

Some will say that the Hong Kong police have been heavy-handed when dealing with some of these recent violent protests. In fact their great professional restraint in such challenging situations contrasts markedly with the beating-up, or killing, which protestors will likely face if they attack the police in many other jurisdictions ... The widespread level of safety on the streets here, achieved by the efforts of the Hong Kong Police Force, is the envy of many other world cities, and should be appreciated by all our citizens

Many in the ranks of the young and black-shirted protesters go fully equipped for a fight, and actively seek confrontation with the police here. Many of them think it is appropriate to physically assault our police officers as a supposedly justifiable way of pressing for more democracy in Hong Kong. It certainly is not!

The police officers called upon to keep the peace here in these troubled times are regarded as the enemy by many protesters. They aren’t! That is a very misguided viewpoint. 

Certainly, elsewhere in the world, even respectable non-protesting citizens are, with very good reason, afraid of their own police officers. That is because they are unfortunately living in a police state, where democracy remains unattainable and police brutality and corruption is widespread. Hong Kong is not a police state, and more realistically it is only our criminals who are afraid of the police here — and rightly so.

Some will say that the Hong Kong police have been heavy-handed when dealing with some of these recent violent protests. In fact their great professional restraint in such challenging situations contrasts markedly with the beating-up, or killing, which protesters will likely face if they attack the police in many other jurisdictions. 

Instead of confronting police, testing their patience and restraint, protesters should recognize that our officers are there simply to keep the peace. Of course, the violent anarchist elements, which are admittedly a small proportion of the thousands of protesting, are actively seeking a chance to fight with the police to glamorize their cause.

As their recent trashing of the Legislative Council Complex illustrated, vandalism against public property is but one of their extreme tactics. We should not condemn all the hundreds of thousands of protesters, who participated in peaceful and lawful marches, for the transgressions into violence by a few hundred extremists. These uncontrolled hotheads give their supposed cause a bad name.

Nevertheless, it is these more-violent extremists who capture the headlines of the world’s news, and whose destructive and belligerent behavior mainly consists of deliberately planned confrontations with the police, who continue to engender a negative perception of Hong Kong by outsiders, thanks to biased press coverage focusing on the sensational. I was just asked by a friend in London if it is safe for her to visit Hong Kong at this time. My reply was that she is much more likely to be mugged, attacked with acid, knifed, shot or even raped or murdered in London, than she would be here. That widespread level of safety on the streets here, achieved by the efforts of the Hong Kong Police Force, is the envy of many other world cities, and should be appreciated by all our citizens.

It is not a bad thing when hundreds of thousands of Kong Kong people seek to voice their political grievances, by participating in peaceful mass rallies. The chief executive’s recent promise to listen more attentively to people’s voices is certainly a step in the right direction, for all concerned. But in the meantime, let’s give our police officers a well-earned break!

The author is a university lecturer and veteran commentator on Hong Kong social issues, who has lived in many other parts of the world.

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