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Editorial : Escalating violence calls for soft tactics

【明報專訊】CAUGHT UP IN a spiral of violence, Hong Kong has seen the further escalation of violence over the past two days. Molotov cocktails have become a "staple" of protests, and violent protesters wreak destruction on everything they see. Many MTR stations have become targets of their attack. Some people even threw iron fences onto tracks in complete disregard for railway safety.

The August 31 march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front was cancelled following opposition by the police. Still, crowds of people took to the streets at the weekend, clashing violently with the police and setting many Hong Kong Island districts ablaze. Some violent people threw Molotov cocktails to the government headquarters, the legislative council building, the police headquarters and other places. They also attacked police officers with corrosive liquid. The police deployed water cannon trucks and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Having vandalised several MTR stations on Saturday, protesters wrought destruction on Tung Chung station on Sunday and disrupted the operation of the airport railway line, bringing land transportation to the airport to a standstill at one point.

Hong Kong is a densely populated city crowded with skyscrapers. The fire built by violent protesters in Wan Chai was almost two metres in height. It endangered not only people nearby but also those living in the vicinity. The Fire Services Department was deeply concerned by it, calling on people not to throw Molotov cocktails or burn clutter. At the beginning of the anti‑amendment storm, the radical protesters kept saying that "they damage inanimate objects, but do not hurt people" and that they would only surround or attack government buildings. But things have so developed that the level of violence has kept going up and has reached a stage in which things have been set on fire everywhere, public facilities have been damaged wantonly and potentially lethal weapons have been used. People from all social strata should calm down and think about whether Hong Kong's situation is really that different from urban riots in foreign countries. They should also think about whether the promise of "damaging inanimate objects only" means that there can be no limits to what they do.

One of the most discussed scenes over the past two days is that of police officers wielding batons, chasing and arresting suspicious people on trains at Prince Edward station.

The pan‑democrats accuse the police of using excessive force, while the police stress that there were fights at the scene and the protesters changed their clothes to conceal their identities. These people, as the police claim, attacked police officers with hard objects such as umbrellas after they had arrived at the scene, so the police "subdued the protesters with corresponding levels of force". Accused of carrying out an "indiscriminate attack", the police stress that they have the "professional abilities" to distinguish between radical protesters and ordinary citizens. Train platforms are cramped places. Any fighting or chasing can easily result in danger. Judging from the current social atmosphere, it should be followed up whether the degree of force used by the police at Prince Edward station was appropriate. It is certain that some of the people at the scene were not "ordinary passengers". But the police have to be careful when enforcing the law so as not to hurt the innocent.

Recently the police have cranked up the level of their law enforcement and arrests. It remains to be seen whether this can help achieve the goal of "stopping violence and curbing disorder" or will engender more hate and violence instead. But as for soft tactics, the government has done too little. People have not seen any major moves in this aspect except for the preparatory meetings for a platform for dialogue, not to mention an official withdrawal of the amendment and an independent investigation. The reliance on hard tactics and the absence of soft ones have made it hard for the government to address public discontent.

明報社評2019.09.02:遏暴力當局硬的更硬 撫民情未見軟的更軟

香港身陷暴力螺旋不斷沉淪,過去兩天暴力又見升級,投擲汽油彈恍如「家常便飯」,暴力分子所到之處肆意破壞,港鐵多個車站成為攻擊目標,有人更將鐵欄等拋到路軌,罔顧鐵路安全。

民陣發起的「8.31」遊行,雖因警方反對而取消,惟周末仍然有一批市民上街,與警方爆發激烈衝突,港島區多處火光熊熊。有暴力分子向政總、立法會和警察總部及不同地方投擲汽油彈,又以腐蝕液體等襲擊警員,警方則出動水炮車和催淚彈等驅散人群。暴力分子繼周末破壞港鐵多個車站後,周日又再大肆破壞東涌港鐵站,妨礙機場鐵路運作,一度癱瘓通往機場的陸路交通。

香港高廈林立人口密集,暴力分子在灣仔鬧市縱火,火勢高近兩米,不僅危及身邊的人,也對附近民居構成威脅,消防處對此便深以為憂,呼籲不要投擲汽油彈和燃燒雜物。反修例風暴初期,激進示威者常說「傷物不傷人」、包圍衝擊對象只是針對政府機關,可是一路發展下來,暴力不斷升級,已發展到四處縱火、肆意破壞民生設施、使用足以致命武器的地步。社會上下應該冷靜想一想,眼下香港很多光景,究竟跟外國的城市暴動還有多少分別;所謂「只破壞死物」,是否真的可以沒有底線。

過去兩天,其中一段最多人議論的現場畫面,是警方在港鐵太子站進入車廂揮棍追捕可疑人物。

泛民指控警方對市民濫用武力,警方則強調現場發生過打鬥,大批示威者更衣掩飾身分,在警方到場後,又用長遮等硬物襲警,警方「使用相對武力制服示威者」。面對「無差別打人」質疑,警方強調有「專業能力」區分激進示威者與一般市民。車站月台狹窄,任何打鬥又或你追我趕都很易發生危險。以當前社會氛圍,警方太子站執法所用武力是否合度,應該跟進。事發現場肯定有一批人不是「普通乘客」,不過警方執法必須小心,否則很易傷及無辜。

近期警方加強執法和拘捕力度,是否起到「止暴制亂」作用,還是激化仇恨衍生更多暴力,仍需時間觀察,然而在軟功方面,當局所做實在太少,除了開會籌備對話平台,市民看不到政府還有其他較大動作,遑論正式撤回修例和獨立調查。當局單靠硬功缺乏軟功,實在很難疏導民情。

■Glossary

spiral : a continuous harmful increase or decrease in sth, that gradually gets faster and faster

wreak : to do great damage or harm to sb/sth

inanimate : not alive in the way that people, animals and plants are

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