8 Jun: Speaking from Opposing Sides of Standoff, Valiant Protesters & Riot Police in Frank Conversation: Gov Still Sidestepping ProblemTranslated by HKCT
Since the Taiwan murder case of Chan Tong-kai sparked the Hong Kong government’s amendment of the extradition bill last year that set off an unprecedented wave of Anti-ELAB protests. In particular, the 9 June march attended by more than one million people could be seen as the start of the protests. In the face of the government’s refusal to respond to the people’s demands, both citizens who supported a peaceful, non-violent, rational protest and those valiant protesters took to the streets, engaging in a series of confrontations with the police that shook the entire city. The demands of the people evolved over time, from protesting against the proposed extradition bill amendment to eventually demanding for the disbanding of the Hong Kong Police, and even some shouting loudly and clearly for the independence of Hong Kong, which received the Chinese government’s proposed security law for Hong Kong. One year later, with what seemed to be little hope for the reconciliation between the police and citizens, Ming Pao invited a valiant protester and a riot police to engage in conversation, share their innermost thoughts and respond to the other’s doubts and questions on a range of topics from law enforcement to use of violent, means of protest, to the way ahead for the protests.
Last year, the Anti-ELAB protests spread throughout the city, and riot police Lee (pseudonym) and valiant protester and student Chan (pseudonym) were on opposite sides of the protests. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the movement, the two were arranged for a telephone conversation. Lee appreciated that Chan cared for society, and stated that the most beautiful victory by the protesters was the use of their peaceful ballots to vote in their desired candidates in the District Council Election; Lee questioned why protesters needed to use violent means of protest. Chan, on the other hand, felt that it was because of the protests on the streets that really awakened citizens to the social problems, and that the solidarity among peaceful, non-violent, rational protesters and valiant protesters made the movement more sustainable. Chan also criticised that police were not held responsible to police brutality, which angered citizens. Despite the vastly different stances of the two, they did share a common view that the government was still evading finding a resolution to the social problems.
“Police as if Playing with Guns on 12 June”, Became Valiant Protester ever since
On 12 June last year, many citizens protested at Admiralty to stop the second reading of the extradition bill at LegCo, and sparked a severe clash with the police. Chan was among the crowd of protesters at that time. He said that he witnessed a protester being shot by the police, and was astounded by the police’s use of force, “I thought the police were acting as if they were playing with guns in a game,” and since that moment, he became a valiant protester. He believed in fighting violence with violence, that throwing bricks or petrol bombs were just means to protect himself or to slow down the speed of the police’s advance. Compared with the guns in the hands of the police, “protesters were merely bringing a knife to a gunfight, and the forces were vastly unequal.”
Lee, a frontline riot police, had attempted to subdue and arrest protesters, and had been injured by thrown bricks. He said that the harm and danger by bricks and petrol bombs were far beyond what protesters imagine, and urged Chan to think again, “If you really care about society and continue to take to the streets, I don’t think that’s a problem, but I hope that you would think about your family and yourself next time before you toss a brick or petrol bomb. Think again what the police or even citizens did to deserve such life-threatening harm before you throw another brick or petrol bomb.”
Admits Some Colleagues Quick-tempered & Overreacted, Disagrees with Lack of Regulatory Mechanism
As for why citizens were so angry with the police, Chan said that the force held public power, but officers repeatedly abused use of force but were not held accountable, “as if free and lawless.” Lee disagreed that there was a lack of regulation, because if a colleague had violated a regulation, they would have to face the consequences. He agreed that some colleagues were quick-tempered, overreacted while on duty and spoke and acted out of line, but the clashes were unprecedented, such that no matter how much training they received, it was hard for officers to not feel disturbed and afraid in such chaotic environments, so it was understandable that not all officers would act with restraint.
Valiant: Selected Law Enforcement Spawned Protesters Taking Matters into Own Hands
Police: 21 July Deployment Had Issues
The 39-minute period of no police on-site for law enforcement during the 21 July Yuen Long Incident was said to have dealt the force’s image a heavy blow. Lee disagreed that there was cooperation between the police and triads, but he admitted that the deployment and management of officers had room for improvement, such as when two officers that walked by Yuen Long Station perhaps could have used suitable force or remained on-site to report the situation, but Chan didn’t believe that the incident was simply the result of deployment issues.
During the middle phase of the movement, cases of protesters settling disputes with others using their own means and vandalising “blue shops”, which Chan viewed as reflecting citizens’ “pent-up anger”, but the actions were targeted. Chan also pointed out that the police were biased in their law enforcement when handling conflicts between yellow ribbons and blue ribbons, thus spawned the prevalence of protesters of taking matters into their own hands. Lee, however, disagreed with Chan and doubted whether this was in violation of the protesters’ pursuit of freedom and democracy, “After you win this victory, you would still need to manage people with differing opinions, so would you be silencing their voices?” Lee described the solidarity among peaceful, non-violent, rational protesters and valiant protesters was a curse, as some violent actions would alienate some protesters; Chan, on the contrary, felt that it was this solidarity that made the movement last so long.
“Do you remember the battle that you won most beautifully?” Lee asked, “It was the District Council Election, and its impact was far-reaching. It was not only a display of public opinion, but it also voiced people’s dismay against the government and changed the system. No one was arrested and jailed for voting, and you still have a chance for change.” Chan felt that besides affecting change at the councils, protests on the streets and the yellow ribbon economy were also indispensable, that “if it weren’t for the street protests, citizens wouldn’t realise that there were so many problems in Hong Kong.”
Riot Police Asks How Protesters Want Roadblocks to be Handled
Chan: There are Things that We Must Do
“Police don’t necessarily support the government. We too are very disappointed (in the government), and the police does not wish to stand in opposition to the people, but we must handle the illegal actions of protesters.” Lee said that he joined the force to serve the people, and that the police suddenly becoming the “triad police” in citizens’ minds made him very unhappy. He asked how the protesters wanted the police to handle actions such as forming roadblocks, and Chan answered, “I think that some things you must do, but there are other things we protesters must do. I only hope that the police wouldn’t hit us so severely.”
The government denied accepting the 5 Demands, including the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry (COI). Lee said that he was impartial, but some of his colleagues suspected that protesters might not be willing to give a statement, so the COI would end up only investigating the police. Chan also admitted that if he was filmed to have thrown a brick and was beaten by the police, he would not give a statement, because he could be jailed for his actions. Chan stressed that “truth does not fear contention, because of the same set of underlying facts,” and that the first step in resolving the turmoil was still dependent on the COI.
Chan felt that the government had been sidestepping in resolving the conflicts in society, which Lee agreed, and that the government would eventually have to resolve the situation. Lee hoped that as things had been cooling off, there wouldn’t be more people hurt, harmed, or arrested, “that society would really return its focus on facing and resolving the issues.”