By Nury Vittachi
(a Sri Lanka journalist based in Hong Kong)
IT WAS NEARLY MIDNIGHT when I heard the shouting.
I was walking along a road in the heart of my beloved hometown, which now looked like a war zone: all barricades and rubble.
The ground-floor Starbucks at Pacific Place was closed, of course, but could have done good business — there were many people on the street.
I followed the sound of the shouting and saw that a team of police officers 👮🏼had arrived on foot to help clear space.
But they were instantly surrounded by a mob,
shouting and screaming foul abuse at them, some using megaphones.
The young man next to me instantly started throwing things at them.
Other protestors ran towards us and the mob to form a huge crowd, surrounding the officers.
You could see how easily it could have turned into a fight, but the police — thank God- just took the abuse without responding except with shouts.
I felt much more scared for the officers, 👮🏼
many of whom were worried looking young men,
than for the protestors, who greatly outnumbered them.
Second, I felt scared for myself: you could easily see how this scene could turn into a battle and
I was in the middle of it taking pictures. 📸
Third, I was scared for Hong Kong: This entire episode was entirely unnecessary, flames fanned by 👉🏽distrust,
1. Literally 99% of the protestors on Sunday were peaceful and non-violent.
But unfortunately many of the remaining ones are openly looking for conflict.
It’s a markedly different atmosphere.
2. This is not to say that the remaining protestors are thugs.
Many are just regular, likeable young people;
a proportion are highly dangerous individuals.
3. We talk about a “war zone” and it looks like that – but we need to keep perspective – we’re NOT talking bullets and bombs, but bricks, sticks, “bean-bag” projectiles and gas canisters.
A number of protestors were carrying knives, masks, body armor, and sharpened sticks, which is worrying.
4. The Hong Kong police are not monsters.
The media write-ups and the clips circulating make it look like the police are initiating the violence (“Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in downtown Hong Kong” is the angle taken by thevast proportion of Western media) but the truth is that they have been strictly briefed to not attack, only respond, and in general appear to be following that guideline.
The astonishing bravery of unarmed young officers standing against terrifying mobs is a story no one is telling.
5. The clips on Twitter and other social media have been chosen and edited to maximize anger.
People who look at them need to be aware of this.
6. None of the students to whom I spoke had read the proposed law or even had much interest in it!
They had read on Twitter that it was all about them, and that was enough.
I was baffled, but strangely found myself admiring their honesty.
There was a oddly infectious joy about them –
we have conquered our city, we rule the streets!
Some seemed drunk on power: in psychological terms, it was fascinating.
7. I also spent time yesterday with older Hong Kong Chinese families, discussing the situation.
It was interesting that they shared a distrust of the mainland legal system— but they were all strongly in favor of the extradition law.
The ones who had spent most time in China were the ones most strongly in favor of the law: that's very telling.
8. On the pro-extradition side, I found a lot of people were frustrated that only one side of the story was being told.
Numerous organizations, including the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce,
by far the biggest business group in the city,
is in favor of the new law, as are numerous other groups.
Hong Kong’s leading legal expert on these matters, Albert Chen, is in favor, as are many of the top people at the Law Society—
but they complain that only the negative lawyers are quoted by the press.
9. What next?
I’m quite sure there’s an untold story at the root of this,
and reporters (me included) have utterly failed to find it.
We need to work harder.
10. My hope is that people will move away from the unhelpful black and white view of things and
make more of an effort to build bridges and understand each other.
But glancing at my Twitter feed this morning,
exactly the opposite is happening.😩