…which leads me to wonder:
To what extent have the HK police been corrupted by their use as guard dogs of an illegitimate regime?
On Saturday, April 25 at around 5 pm, I was walking down the street toward Tai Po Market MTR station. About one-hundred meters from the station, I heard what sounded like the clatter of boots on the pavement approaching from behind. Before I turned, a police officer appeared at my side. She was accompanied by four male colleagues. She asked me for my ID.
“Why?” I replied.
“Under the HK immigration ordinance,” she said.
“What about it?” I asked.
“We have the right to request your ID under the HK immigration ordinance.”
“Do you suspect me of a crime, or do you think I have been acting suspiciously?”
“No, we just want to see your ID. “
“Do you suspect me of having broken the immigration ordinance or of being in HK illegally?”
“No, but we have the right to ask for your ID.”
“Why did you approach me just now?”
“To ask you for your ID.”
“Where did you approach me from?”
“Have you been following me?”
The laws regarding police powers to demand to see an identification document are somewhat unclear. Immigration Ordinance section 17c is pretty unambiguous. According to it, the police have the power, without having to give a reason, to demand that any person produce “proof of his identity” (exactly of what that may legally consist is somewhat open to interpretation). According to Police Force Ordinance section 54, , police have the power, in the case of a person “who acts in a suspicious manner”, “to stop the person for the purpose of demanding that he produce proof of his identity for inspection by the police officer.” Because of the relative ambiguity of the Police Force Ordinance, police seem to prefer invoking the authority of the Immigration Ordinance when stopping people and demanding proof of identity.
The HK government had just launched its 2017: Make It Happen! campaign to drum up support for its fake universal suffrage proposals presented to the Legislative Council on Wednesday, April 22. Top government ministers, including the three formally responsible for the proposal, the Chief Secretary, the Secretary for Justice and the Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs, had been riding around the city that afternoon in an open-top bus.
The bus had passed nearby Tai Po Market about a half hour before. I had been there at the time. So had both pro-government and pro-democracy demonstrators, and I had reason to suspect that the police were asking me for identification for political reasons; that is to say, they believed me to hold political views or to have engaged in political acts they considered suspicious, perhaps even conducive to criminal activity.
This was only the second time in my life, including many years of attending demonstrations, that the police had asked me for ID. The first time was during a demonstration for Tibetan freedom and human rights on Tibetan Uprising Day, March 10, 2011. It is striking that both times were in relation to political protest even though on neither occasion did the police say they had reason to believe I had committed a crime.
As I spoke with the five police officers, they called colleagues. Quickly three others arrived. (Hundreds of police officers were at Tai Po Market and several dozen more in the vicinity of the MTR station.) I was now surrounded by eight officers altogether. A crowd of about 20 curious onlookers gathered. Two people began to video us with their mobile phones.
One of the three newly arrived officers was in plainclothes. (I never did ask him for proof of being a police officer, though afterwards I thought I should have.) He told me that I had been at Kennedy Town and Lok Fu, two other places the 2017: Make It Happen! open-top bus had passed earlier that day. And, he added, I had “been on t.v.”
His words lead me to believe that I had not simply been randomly stopped by the five officers who initially approached me, or even that they had followed me from Tai Po Market and stopped me under suspicion of being a pro-democracy activist, but that, instead, the five had been ordered to do so by superiors who had been monitoring me over the course of the day
“Do you think I have committed a crime?” I asked the plainclothes officer. “Is it a crime to be in those locations or to be on t.v?”
“No,” he said, “but it is a matter of public order.”
“I don’t understand: Do you suspect me of having disrupted public order?”
“No,” he said, “but we have the right to see your ID.”
“But what does that have to do with whether or not I was in Kennedy Town or Lok Fu or on t.v?”
People outside of a restaurant on the other side of the narrow street on which we stood were shouting at the two onlookers videoing our discussion who shouted back. Five people came over from the restaurant side and began shoving the two videographers. Two of the police officers went over to them.
A young person I recognized as a pro-democracy activist happened by and began to video the incident. He asked me to speak to the camera and tell what was happening and then asked the officers what was going on.
Then a citizen journalist I recognized and had seen earlier that day in Kennedy Town and Tai Po happened by and began to observe.
The police demand to see my ID was quickly becoming a spectacle.
A lot had already happened that day.
While at Kennedy Town, I had stood on a corner opposite the corner where a large number of pro-government and pro-democracy demonstrators were gathered, squeezed into a small area. From my vantage point, I could look down the street in the direction from which the 2017: Make It Happen! bus was scheduled to come. The demonstrators would not be able to see the bus until it turned the corner and was almost already past them. When I saw it, I crossed the street and yelled to the demonstrators, “The bus is coming!”
Three police officers grabbed me and pulled me to the sidewalk. The bus turned the corner, and I stepped out into the street to catch a glimpse of it, since, on the sidewalk, my view was obscured by the other demonstrators. One policeman tackled me, another held me down, and a third towered over me. A fourth came quickly, and the four of them took one limb each and carried me to the side of the road while I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Stay on the sidewalk,” they told me, and then ran back to where the bus had just passed.
A scuffle broke out between pro-government and pro-democracy demonstrators. When the bus had turned the corner, the pro-democracy demonstrators had pushed toward the street, and the police gathered to block them shoved them backward with an enormous heave. They clattered into the pro-government demonstrators who began attacking them. One heavy-set young man in white pummeled a scrawny young man in white about the head. Two plainclothes policemen I recognized emerged from the crowd. One of them looked stunned. He had gotten caught up in the scuffle, and his colleague was trying to attend to him. I shouted at them that a demonstrator was being attacked, but the one officer lead his dazed colleague off in the opposite direction. It was very difficult to draw police attention to the assault, as the police appeared to think that their only mission was to guard the bus. Now that the bus had passed, the police did intervene, dozens shoving their way into the thick of the crowd, but they clearly had little idea of what was going on, or really didn’t care, as they took away the scrawny young man who had been pummeled while the heavy-set man who’d attacked him disappeared into the crowd. I tried to follow him, but he got away. Then I told the police they were dragging away the wrong person, but not a single police officer listened to me. They did not appear to be interested in taking witness statements. Instead, they told me not to follow them.
From Kennedy Town, I went to Lok Fu. I arrived, according to the first person there I asked, a pro-democracy demonstrator, about three minutes after the 2017: Make It Happen! bus had passed. I dashed back to the MTR and took it up to Tai Po Market. It is interesting that the plainclothes police officer I spoke to near Tai Po Market MTR mentioned that I had been at Lok Fu, since I’d been there a matter of only a few minutes, emerging from the MTR station and then going right back into it. The fact that the police officer said I had been seen there suggests they were tailing me or monitoring me fairly closely.
At Tai Po Market, there were very few pro-democracy protesters, perhaps a couple dozen altogether. They were outnumbered by the pro-government demonstrators who had set up a stage. In fact, there were so few pro-democracy protesters, I wondered whether the 2017: Make It Happen! bus had already passed.
While I stood on the wide pavement out front of the market trying to get my bearings, a police officer approached and asked what I was doing.
“I am standing here,” I said.
“Be sure not to block others,” he said.
“I don’t think I am,” I said. “Do you?”
He didn’t reply.
I saw a scrum of reporters encircling Joshua Wong. Then I turned in the other direction and saw the 2017: Make It Happen! bus coming swiftly down the street. I wondered whether I was really seeing it because it seemed as if no one else had yet noticed. I shouted, “I want real universal suffrage!” at the bus.
This caught Joshua’s attention, and he broke through the media scrum and ran toward the curb. He was almost immediately knocked down by a police officer, though he was doing nothing in the least bit threatening (unless simply moving in the direction of the bus could be construed as threatening).
I started to jog/run parallel to the bus as it made its way down the street and continued shouting, “I want real universal suffrage!” I was almost immediately blocked by several police officers.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Don’t step out into the street,” one officer snarled at me.
“I’m not. I’m on the pavement,” I said.
“You’re close to the street,” he said. He wasn’t interested in fine distinctions.
The officers were simply trying to prevent me from following the bus, although presumably I had a perfect right to do so as long as I remained on the pavement. As soon as the bus turned the corner down at the end of the street, the police backed away and allowed me to proceed.
I continued on down toward the end of the street. I wanted to reach the corner and see if the bus had already disappeared out of site. I passed the pro-government stage. Several people there swore and spat at me.
I stopped and stared at them, then turned to the large group of police officers standing nearby. “Look at what they’re doing,” I said. The police officers neither moved nor replied. Their faces were entirely impassive, in strong contrast to the one snarling at me moments before.
One plainclothes officer continued to follow me down to the end of the street.
“You will be in trouble if you don’t stop,” he threatened.
“Why are you following me?” I asked.
When we reached the end of the street, he turned around and headed back to where he’d come from.
From the corner, the bus was nowhere in sight.
By that point, whatever the “objective facts”, I definitely felt my freedoms of movement, assembly, association had been unjustifiably infringed. The atmosphere in Tai Po was menacing.
It was then that I headed back to the Tai Po Market MTR station, taking a different route so as not to avoid the pro-government crowd and police I’d just passed, and was stopped by the police officers who demanded my ID.
Our discussion went in circles. They threatened to arrest me and take me to the police station to identify me. I stepped aside and made a phone call to ask for advice. I also hoped the call might signal to the police officers that I was a “somebody” and that treating me as they were could have repercussions. I was advised by my phone interlocutor to offer to show the police my ID if they agreed not to take down my details.
When I got off the phone, the plainclothes officer who said I’d been seen at Kennedy Town, Lok Fu and “on t.v.” had disappeared, but two more uniformed officers had arrived. The total was now nine.
“If I show you my ID, will you record my details?”
“Yes,” they said.
“Why do you need to do that if my ID is in order?”
“It is standard procedure,” they said, “for the records.”
We were at an impasse. Some of the officers looked embarrassed; they just wanted to move on. Two looked very angry at me for giving them trouble. I would not want to encounter them in a “dark corner”. If they began to arrest me, I wasn’t sure what I’d do. I believe the police are politically profiling people and probably keeping a list of “politically suspect individuals”, including those who have never been arrested or convicted of a crime, to keep an eye on. I did not want to show them my details because I did not trust them.
The next day, Sunday, I went on the Remember June 4 26-kilometer run. This event is held every year in the lead-up to the candlelight vigil on June 4. At most, several dozen people turn out for it. We start at Chinese University and run through Hong Kong, finishing at the Central Government Liaison Office where we make a declaration and lay white chrysanthemums. We are just about the most harmless, non-threatening group of mostly middle-aged people you can imagine, and in the ten years of the run, we have never caused the police any trouble at all.
In past years, there was very little police presence along the route. Typically, it increased only at the University of Hong Kong. Around the Liaison Office, there were always a lot of police. Indeed, year after year, the police would find little ways of making our lives difficult (no, you can’t bring that Goddess of Democracy statue through; there isn’t enough space, etc, and long negotiations would ensue), but then, police behavior in front of the Liaison Office is a category unto itself.
This year, for the first time in my seven years doing the run, there was a continuous police presence along most of the route from CUHK down through New Territories and Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, HKU and the Liaison Office. All of the police were very courteous and some quite solicitous, stopping traffic for us. This, I thought, is what HK police are good at, directing traffic; it is what they should stick to. But I also found it strange that there were so many along the way. Many of them took photos of us. I felt under surveillance.
What did they think? That we were going to suddenly occupy a street? That we could be part of some plot to re-occupy the city? Probably not, but I suspect the police are under orders to do whatever they can to prevent any kind of re-occupation from occurring. Prevention is the order of the day. And that means not only more police in MTR stations and university campuses (which I have also noticed) but also stepped-up monitoring of any group affiliated with the pro-democracy movement.
In HK, there is insufficient oversight of police. Complaints must be made directly to police who are supervised by a toothless and quite inactive Independent Police Complaints Council according to a labyrinthine process. There has been no action taken by the HK government or any other official entity to hold the police accountable for police actions during the 79 days of occupations, and no independent investigation of police either. (Pro-government members dominate the Functional Constituency part of the Legislative Council — the part not elected according to principles of universal suffrage — and voted down pan-democratic attempts to pass a motion establishing an independent investigation.) Considering this situation, the risks of abuse of power and infringements of political and civil liberties are present, to say the least, and, for anyone who has been out on the street, quite palpable.
Police were present at both CUHK, the start of the run, and City U, a stop on the route. Also at both were people I took to be mainland intelligence agents. I’d seen the sorts in the past: either thick, stocky and pot-bellied or abnormally skinny, both types in sunglasses and ill-fitting suits or polo shirts. Though I was running and had better things to do, I was so provoked by the ones at City U taking photos of us that I stopped and took a photo of them.
The intelligence guys were standing near the police. I thought to myself, While mainland intelligence personnel spy on HK citizens — nothing new about this, except it’s become more blatant — , the police exhibit suspicion of people due to their political expression. This is not a pretty picture.
At the finish line, the Liaison Office, there was definite police overkill, even more so than in the past: upwards of two-hundred police officers versus under fifty of us. You wouldn’t want us to hop the fence and occupy the compound there, would you?!
So have the police changed, or am I just making a lot out of nothing? If the police have changed, how much?
Having gone to many pro-democracy demonstrations over the years, I’ve seen the police do a lot of annoying things, and there’s much I could take them to task for.
What immediately come to mind are arrests for things like whistling too loudly in the vicinity of police officers (amazingly, that guy was actually convicted), “assault” for opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize at the Liaison Office, some of it allegedly spraying a security guard standing nearby, prominent pro-democracy figures arrested simply for appearing on Citizens’ Radio, a station the government has refused to license (when Szeto Wah died, he still had a charge for that hanging over him), and various other arrests that appear more like harassment (or judicial persecution, as it has been called) than law enforcement.
During Li Keqiang’s visit to HK in 2011, police appeared to cooperate with mainland security to deprive or infringe civil liberties on numerous occasions.
In 2010, the police infamously “kidnapped” not one but two Goddess of Democracy replica statues in the lead-up to the June 4 candlelight vigil and arrested some two dozen people related to Hong Kong Alliance who tried to prevent them from doing so. A couple of legal cases related to those arrests are still on-going five years later.
In that sense, the situation today is not entirely new, though its scale and severity are. Pro-democracy demonstrators have never felt the police are “on our side” or even entirely neutral, but in the last five years especially, they often appear to be against us. Is it an exaggeration to say that political opposition is being increasingly criminalized?
For a stark point of contrast, remember the July 1 march in 2003 when a half million people turned out to protest against impending draconian Article 23 “security” legislation intended to make HK laws dovetail with the mainland’s. Considering the enormous crowd, the police presence on that occasion was light. The police regarded their role as that of facilitation, no more, no less. There were no arrests, and the event went off peacefully. In how many other cities around the world could half a million people gather without any destruction to property or other crimes committed? In this regard, it’s important to remember that HK people are largely self-policing and nonviolent. The fact that crime rates in HK are relatively low is perhaps more down to the law-abiding character of the population than to the police (though it should be noted that the fact that the HK police are not economically corrupt is a big plus).
Compare the 2003 march to the one on July 1, 2014. Last year was the first time ever that march organizers were arrested for a July 1 march — five of them altogether. Year after year, organizers and police had disagreed about various details of the march, but the police had never before taken the step of arresting them. (As in the case of the vast majority of arrests made by police in connection with the Umbrella Revolution, no prosecution has yet ensued.)
Some have compared HK police to police elsewhere and argued we have little to complain about. But most of these comparisons, for instance to police in US cities, are more misleading than instructive. While the Umbrella Revolution has been going on in HK, there have been several notorious cases of unarmed black men (and a child) being killed by police in the US. Some say, Look, hey, here in HK, a little tear gas, a little pepper spray- what’s that compared to the fact that police elsewhere, and in a democratic country no less, are killing their own citizens?
But in comparing different situations, it’s important to take their different contexts into account. In this case, the US has a “double history” of violence: First, slavery and racial discrimination that, while not as bad as before, continues up to this day; second, gun laws that allow a large number of citizens to carry lethal weapons. The two are a lethal brew, for racist tendencies amongst US police are compounded by their expectation that in any given situation, they could be shot at. The chances of them pre- or over-reacting are great.
By contrast, HK police have it relatively easy. HK is a relatively nonviolent society (at least physically speaking; the structural violence is great, HK being one of the most unequal societies in the world and number one on two out of two Economist crony capitalism indices).
A better comparison would be to Nordic countries which, like HK, are small in population, racially homogenous, affluent and have a tradition of relatively nonviolent behavior of both police and citizenry.
In light of that comparison, the behavior of HK police can be seen in relief as well as the fact that its backdrop is the political injustice suffered by the HK people. That is to say, the police routinely infringe civil liberties and abuse their power in order to protect those in power, unlike in the Nordic countries which are amongst the most democratic in the world.
Amongst its many inanities on HK, the UK government judged the police’s response to the occupations to be generally proportionate.
To the extent that there is any truth to that view, it has to be highly qualified: For a long time after they attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, the police had no other choice. Yes, after the initial indiscriminate pepper-spraying and tear-gassing, they did practice relative restraint, but this was because they had no other option unless they wanted to use even greater force, which was judged politically unviable. They had lost. Not only had they failed to prevent people from occupying the streets (indeed, ironically, it was their act, the teargasing, more than any other that provoked people to do so), but the general population was incensed at their behavior and at the government’s irresponsible order to the police to attack its own citizens (an order it has not even dared to admit it gave). Once they had taken the risk of attacking their own citizens and failed so miserably even in the narrow military sense of defeating them (ie, clearing the streets), all they could do was adopt a defensive stance and wait out the occupations, which is what they did. When the occupied sites were eventually cleared, the occupiers put up no resistance. (The first time the police tried to clear Mong Kok by stealth, it was reoccupied. The second time, after the clearance of Argyle Street, there was resistance in nearby side streets, but by this time, the police felt more confident they could politically put it down, and this is also where a great deal of police brutality occurred, for example, with police aiming batons at the head level of demonstrators hiding behind umbrellas.)
Even then, to consider their use of force “largely proportionate” is to ignore a large body of evidence to the contrary. Not only were there the indiscriminate tear-gassing and gratuitous use of pepper spray on a number of occasions, individual cases of police brutality during the occupations were widespread, with an especially large number associated with the clearance of Lung Wo Road; the clearance of Mong Kok, especially in the aftermath of the clearance of Argyle Street; and several infamous beatings of individuals, the best known being that of Ken Tsang, but also others for which the officers responsible have not been held accountable in the least, for example, Osman Cheng’s beating in Mong Kok.
Police win few points from anyone for the fact that the officers who beat Ken Tsang have not yet been brought to trial. From comments by the Police Commissioner himself defending his officers’ right not to cooperate in a criminal investigation in which they themselves are implicated (the Police Commissioner has never defended the rights of other arrestees or suspects not to cooperate), one is left with the suspicion that the police handed a weak or faulty or incomplete report to the Department of Justice in order to make it harder to prosecute the officers. In the meantime, demonstrators have been tried on charges of assaulting officers and obstructing officers and bailiffs.
Few if any of these cases are as clear-cut as Ken Tsang’s. Many of them are very flimsy indeed, and on more than one occasion, the judge has criticized the prosecution and testifying officers for their poor, and in some cases, misleading or inaccurate evidence. There was certainly not a single case of demonstrators outright beating an officer. The double standard is not amusing and mars the police’s integrity and public trust in it.
In addition to this, at times during the occupations and also since, especially during the anti-parallel trade demonstrations but also during Gao Wu in Mong Kok, it has appeared that the police and counter-demonstrators had a sort of relationship or tacit agreement or that, at the very least, police were more focused on “policing” demonstrators than people attacking them.
In the week leading up to the HK government tabling its fake universal suffrage proposals in Legco, the police arrested two Scholarism students, Ivan Lam and Wilson Li, and the deputy secretary general of the League of Social Democrats, Napo Wong, in connection to incidents that took place way back in, respectively, November 2013 and March 2014. Strange timing, that, and many said it seemed as if the police were trying to intimidate people against coming out to the streets to protest against the fake universal suffrage proposals.
There is also the worryingly large number of reports of HK people being prevented from entering the mainland. It appears there is a kind of blacklist, and it is unclear whether or not, or, if so, the extent to which, HK authorities, perhaps including the police, have cooperated with mainland authorities in compiling it.
But at base, more than these discrete incidents, the political corruption of the HK police by making them serve the ends of an unelected government which is little more than the representative of the largest dictatorship in the world has to do with the decision to tear gas demonstrators on September 28, 2014 for hours on end, far past the point that the teargasing could reasonably have been said to have any law enforcement function, if indeed it ever could have.
In taking that decision, the HK government was essentially turning the police into a militia to protect it and treating the pro-democracy demonstrators as the enemy. This constituted the breaking of a basic social contract that had existed for decades. Remember, it was the first use of tear gas against HK citizens, the first concerted attack on HK citizens since the late ninety-sixties. Back then, at any rate, the police had the defense that their adversaries, Cultural Revolution-inspired leftists, were violent, planting bombs and throwing Molotov cocktails.
Not until both the HK government and the police formally and unequivocally acknowledge their actions, fully account for them, hold individuals responsible for making the decisions to take them and apologize to the HK people can the HK police really regain their integrity and hope to reform.
The police attack on demonstrators had more to do with regime intimidation than law enforcement. This continues to be the operative paradigm, and at root, this is the problem.
You could argue that the police are simply responding as best they can to a new reality, namely, HK people’s greater willingness to engage in acts of civil disobedience and their decreasing willingness to abide by the terms of the Public Order Ordinance, which has been criticized both locally and internationally for being open to abuse as a tool to infringe freedom of assembly and association. Yes, sometimes there have been excesses, this line of reasoning goes, but what are the police to do in dealing with an increasingly restive population?
After the Kennedy Town fracas on Saturday, a journalist who is generally sympathetic toward the pro-democracy movement said, “I feel sympathy for the police.” She meant that the police are put in a difficult position.
I agree, but I also think the question isn’t so much whether or not one feels sympathy with police. On a certain level, I feel sympathy with all human beings — life is difficult, after all! The question is what function the police are serving, and whether or not they should be serving that function.
And here, while the behavior of individual police officers is certainly important to address, and individual officers should be held responsible for abuses of power, the problem is more systematic and has to do, fundamentally, with the relationship between the government, the police and the people of HK.
Are the police adhering strictly to the role of law enforcement? Or have they overstepped their bounds, largely due to government orders and the disposition of top officers, in particular the Police Commissioner, and increasingly begun to play the political role of keeping political opposition to the regime in check? To what extent has “law enforcement” bled into harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and infringement of civil liberties?
Or to put it another way, when the Partystate and the HK government refuse to abide by the Basic Law and international law, when they deny the HK people the basic human right of genuine universal suffrage, when, in effect, it is they who have broken the law, and their criminal act which is the “original sin” at the root of the issue at hand, what role should the police play? Arguably, the police should have been arresting the people on that 2017: Make It Happen! bus responsible for the Fake Universal Suffrage plan and not the people demonstrating against it.
When was the last time the police asked Carrie Lam for proof of identity? When was the last time they asked Raymond Tam what he was doing standing on the pavement? Have they ever ignored Rimsky Yuen when he tried to give them information related to a crime? These are the people who have broken the Basic Law, who have broken international law. [insert un concluding observations] If there were any international enforceability in this area, they would be indicted for depriving eight million people of a basic political right. How much are the HK police corrupted when they are continually in the position of defending a government that has committed a crime against the HK people from the HK people who are trying to hold them legally accountable to the Basic Law and international law? It is really an up-is-down, down-is-up situation, which is why it is hard to listen to HK government propagandistic phrases like “the illegal Occupy Movement” with any patience; it should quite literally be “the illegal HK government”.
The media should have a pressing interest in asking and pursuing these questions, but you’d be hard pressed to find much in the media about them, apart from news about the most notorious cases, such as the beating of Ken Tsang by seven police officers. But those are easy to write off as “excesses” committed by a few “bad apples” when the problem, as I say, is more systematic. To approach this systematic problem, you need analytical and investigative journalism, of which there is very little in HK, and even less of high quality. And international journalists simply don’t have the time or inclination to cover it; HK isn’t a high enough priority to their editors based on the other side of the world. And so, arguably one of the larger stories of the Umbrella Revolution, whether the police force has been turned into a tool to protect the political power of the regime, goes unexamined in local and international public discourse.
The police who accosted me in the street were not “bad apples”, at least not in their handling of me. They were just “doing their job”. Yet the job they were doing really shouldn’t be their job. They were ordered to do it, and they did it, and in doing it, they were corrupted, not dramatically, not in the sense that they beat me or arrested me and framed me or harmed me physically, but in the sort of subtle way that becomes significant only when you recognize it as part of a pattern.
In a way, all of what I have written here was going through my head when the police requested my ID and goes through my head in any encounter with the police. I am not alone — it is thus for a great many in the pro-democracy movement, and if you spend any time talking with them, you will come away with a great many stories like this one.
The issue of political pressure on institutions — and of their compromising and corruption and degradation — in HK is urgent and has to do not only with police but also the media, education and universities, the law and the judiciary.
One reason the Department of Justice seems reluctant to prosecute pro-democracy demonstrators is it fears the judiciary is not yet sufficiently compromised that the government can expect easy wins that can be parleyed into propaganda (look at the “illegal” demonstrators!). The HK government consistently employs the description, “the illegal Occupy Movement,” but it has yet to test this assertion of “illegality” in court: Not a single occupier has been tried for unlawful assembly, though the great majority of arrests were for that crime. Some in government and the police must understand that there is a difference between the world of force, which they inhabit, and the world of law as represented by the judiciary and legal community. Unlike the judiciary, the universities, some schools and a few hold-outs in the media, the police, on the other hand, have proven sufficiently pliable. Admittedly, they were the most vulnerable to such corruption to begin with.
The police and the Department of Justice should either make full efforts to prosecute those they arrest, in particular on the charge of unlawful assembly but also in connection with demonstrations, or the police should acknowledge its errors in making those arrests and stop the abuse of their powers of arrest. Otherwise, they are simply using arrests to control people they have no intention of actually prosecuting and who have, until proven otherwise, committed no crime. Their acts are not illegal until proven so in a court of law.
Just when it looked as if the police would be carting me down to the police station, the female officer who had been the first to approach me took me aside and said, “Perhaps if you answer a few questions about Hong Kong, we can be assured that you are not an illegal immigrant.”
From the point of view of methodology, her suggestion was absurd, but I discerned she was trying to find a face-saving way of ending the encounter.
“OK,” I said.
“How long have you been in Hong Kong?”
I answered the question.
“Where do you live?”
I said I did not want to answer the question.
“What district do you live in?”
I told her.
She asked one more question about my marital status (?!) and then said I could go. Good on her for putting an end to the farce. (Forgive me, but I’ve become attached to that word ever since Human Rights Watch described the HK government’s fake universal suffrage plan as a rights abuse farce.)
As I walked away, I glanced at my watch. The whole encounter had lasted 25 minutes.
The citizen journalist who had been observing accompanied me to the station. He said, “I recognize two of those officers.”
“From where?” I asked.
“I videoed them at the Yuen Long anti-parallel trade demonstration in March. I saw a blue ribbon attacking a demonstrator there. I chased him and he ran away. He was joined by these two officers. They went into an alley. I told the officers I’d seen the man attack another man. They didn’t listen to me. They gave the attacker an iced tea and then said goodbye to him.”
He showed me the video. Sure enough, it was definitely the same two officers.
In that small group of officers who stopped me lies a parable. Common sense had eventually prevailed upon the female police officer, and this, too, is a characteristic of many HK police, albeit perhaps dwindling overall. Two of the other officers had at least on one previous occasion “gone over to the dark side”. At stake is the soul of the force, which in turn will have much influence on the fate of HK. Which way will it go?
1 May 2015