Lau Nai-ke­ung ar­gues that po­lice of­fi­cers de­serve our sym­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing dur­ing dif­fi­cult times in HK

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Po­lit­i­cally cor­rect non­sense is ev­ery­where. Due to “Long Hair” Le­ung Kwok-hung’s ef­forts, pris­on­ers’ hair styles are now a mat­ter of hu­man rights. Iron­i­cally, po­lice of­fi­cers are con­victed of beat­ing a pro­tester who was found guilty of as­sault­ing and re­sist­ing of­fi­cers. Each of th­ese cases, taken in iso­la­tion, is a rea­son­able ap­pli­ca­tion of our laws. But taken to­gether, they have im­pli­ca­tions which go be­yond le­gal is­sues. In the wider con­text, the rule of law is ar­guably weak­ened rather than strength­ened by th­ese rul­ings.

Dur­ing and af­ter the “Oc­cupy Cen­tral” protests in 2014, the morale of front­line po­lice of­fi­cers fell to an all-time low, as they were or­dered to deal with pro­test­ers who held il­le­gal ral­lies and caused a traf­fic grid­lock. From then on, po­lice morale was low­ered fur­ther with­out a chance to heal prop­erly.

Ju­nior Po­lice Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion Chair­man Joe Chan Cho-kwong has ques­tioned whether po­lice of­fi­cers com­mit­ted an of­fense by help­ing to de­fend bar­ri­cades set up by demon­stra­tors from anti-“Oc­cupy” cit­i­zens who were try­ing to re­move them.

“There were res­i­dents ex­er­cis­ing their civic re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­move il­le­gal bar­ri­cades in Ad­mi­ralty, Mong Kok and Cause­way Bay to re­store traf­fic flows and or­der,” Chan told re­porters dur­ing the “Oc­cupy” protests. “Po­lice did not fol­low the law and as­sist the re­moval of road ob­sta­cles, but guarded the il­le­gal ob­struc­tions and as­sisted those gath­ered il­le­gally to carry out their il­le­gal be­hav­ior.”

Chan’s con­cerns are ac­tu­ally very valid. In the rul­ing of the re­cent case of po­lice beat­ing a pro­tes­tor, the court found that two of­fi­cers did not di­rect- The au­thor is a vet­eran cur­rent af­fairs com­men­ta­tor. ly par­tic­i­pate in the as­sault. How­ever, judge David Dufton still found them guilty be­cause “ev­ery po­lice of­fi­cer has a duty to pre­vent the com­mis­sion of a crime” — even if that crime is com­mit­ted by fel­low of­fi­cers.

Let’s ap­ply Dufton’s rea­son­ing con­sis­tently. On Sept 28, 2014, the po­lice de­clared the “Oc­cupy” protests il­le­gal. Af­ter that time, any po­lice of­fi­cer who has not dis­charged his or her duty to pre­vent or stop the “Oc­cupy” protests is as guilty as th­ese seven po­lice­men. Many Hong Kong peo­ple be­lieve the po­lice did not do enough to end the “Oc­cupy” protests sooner. This re­spon­si­bil­ity falls squarely on the se­nior man­age­ment of the po­lice force. Why don’t we put se­nior po­lice man­age­ment on trial to see what judge Dufton has to say?

The rule of law is a sys­temic con­cept. It is mean­ing­less to say that the out­come of this case com­plies with the rule of law bet­ter while the other one com­plies less so. More im­por­tantly, what hap­pens out­side of the court­room is as im­por­tant as what hap­pens in­side. No mat­ter how fairly pro­ceed­ings are con­ducted within the court­rooms, the rule of law is un­ten­able if the Depart­ment of Jus­tice is not pros­e­cut­ing peo­ple who re­ally de­serve to be pros­e­cuted.

Hong Kong is fac­ing a moral cri­sis. Many of us, es­pe­cially the younger gen­er­a­tion, are no longer able to dis­tin­guish right from wrong. This all started when we started treat­ing the good guys the same as the bad ones.

Po­lice of­fi­cers are the good guys. Pub­lic or­der is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble if we do not have faith in them. Our po­lice of­fi­cers have also proven to be wor­thy of our trust and sup­port. In re­cent years, they have had to en­dure lengthy shifts that are in­creas­ing in fre­quency. This is due to the ex­po­nen­tial growth in vi­o­lent protests, many of which take place on the eve of pub­lic hol­i­days — when or­di­nary peo­ple would rather be at home with their fam­ily. The risk of in­jury is at an all-time high. Front­line po­lice of­fi­cers are be­ing struck by bricks, glass bot­tles and wooden boards dur­ing th­ese protests. If this is not a sac­ri­fice then what is?

Many spon­ta­neous ini­tia­tives are tak­ing shape to sup­port the seven re­cently con­victed po­lice of­fi­cers. I en­cour­age you to keep an eye on this case. Yes, th­ese po­lice of­fi­cers may have bro­ken the law, and if so they have to ac­cept the con­se­quences of their ac­tions. But just as “Long Hair” was en­ti­tled to his choice of hair­cut in prison, th­ese po­lice of­fi­cers de­serve our sym­pa­thy and sup­port — par­tic­u­larly when we care­fully con­sider their ac­tions.

No mat­ter how fairly pro­ceed­ings are con­ducted within the court­rooms, the rule of law is un­ten­able if the Depart­ment of Jus­tice is not pros­e­cut­ing peo­ple who re­ally de­serve to be pros­e­cuted.

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