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








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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