Carrie Lam must rein in police brutality to restore Hongkongers’ trust in the force
First published: 05th October 2019
This open letter was published in the South China Morning Post
Dear Carrie Lam,
Thank you for finally announcing a “funeral” for the extradition bill. However, as the withdrawal must wait until the Legislative Council reopens in mid-October, this leaves something of a credibility gap. You need to take immediate, positive action to demonstrate your good faith.
The appointment of two more members to the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) is insufficient. Although the Complaints Against Police Office and the IPCC are the established mechanism for handling complaints against the police, they have long been criticised as inadequate. The question of the competence of one IPCC member is raised by his comments that displaying officers’ identity numbers could threaten their privacy. The IPCC’s inability to call witnesses makes it unlikely that it can fully investigate the events of the past months.
The colonial era casts a long shadow on Hong Kong. While years of calm allowed the police to build their reputation as “Asia’s finest”, this illusion disappeared when push came to shove, and the prevalent attitude within the police that their function is to instil fear and obedience through violence has been revealed. In reaction to this revelation, people have come onto the streets to voice their objection to the police’s excessive use of force against the protesters.
We must consider the psychological effect on officers – in recent news reports, some have looked tired or even bewildered while continuing to use apparently excessive force.
The only way to police a free and democratic society is policing by consent. To start rebuilding public trust in the police:
- Put all police officers who have been involved in violent clashes on immediate, mandatory leave with appropriate stress counselling.
- Insist that all uniformed officers show their police identity number on the front and rear (or both shoulders) of their uniforms and that undercover officers, as soon as they participate in an arrest or otherwise break cover, identify themselves with their police identity numbers politely, especially to journalists.
- Reduce the use of riot gear. The black, faceless uniforms that are intended to intimidate have become a focus for retaliation.
- Allow protests and processions. Continue issuing letters of no objection.
The reduction in police numbers and resumption of mass protests will not be a problem: the largest protests were the most peaceful and dispersed when finished. When roads are filled by protesters, it is misleading to say that they are causing an obstruction to ordinary people. The protesters are ordinary people, exercising their right to assembly and procession.
I was not aware of a second part of the shadow of colonialism until it was rumoured you would invoke it. The Emergency Regulations Ordinance contradicts the rights enshrined in the Basic Law. It should be repealed as the second order of business when Legco resumes.
I am pleased to hear you say that you will not give up on building a platform for dialogue. My own efforts in engaging in a dialogue through these messages have been distinctly one-sided so far.
voter in the Hong Kong Island and IT Constituencies