Police should be seen to be acting on traffic black spots

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am


In the Men in Black film series, secret agents keep under control a miscellany of misbehaving aliens who have settled on earth. Members of the public who happen to be present during the policing are flashed with a special light which wipes out all memory of the event they have witnessed. This induced amnesia is deemed necessary because it is feared public knowledge of the alien presence would create panic in the community.

Following the recent visit to Hong Kong of Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, believed by many to be the likely successor to Wen Jiabao as premier, we now know that Hong Kong has its own MIB unit. A local resident going about his lawful business in the public housing estate where he lives was spirited away out of sight of the illustrious visitor so that his T-shirt, which carried a message about the events of June 4, 1989 in Beijing, would not be seen. The intervention was apparently undertaken not by uniformed officers, but by people dressed in dark clothing.

Unfortunately for Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung, his men had either forgotten to bring their special amnesia device or were slow to deploy it. As a result, the whole incident was filmed by the media, broadcast on the news and seen by virtually the entire community. So the cat is well and truly out of the bag.

Hong Kong people fully accept the need to provide adequate security for important visitors and guests. But they also respect the right of fellow citizens to express their political viewpoint in a peaceful way. The idea that 3,000 police personnel - one-tenth of the entire active force - needed to be deployed to protect someone in one of the world's safest cities struck most people as an absurd overreaction. And the idea that such a visitor should only see 'nice' things and should be shielded from dissenting views is - well, alien.

Contrast the vigour of this police action with the widespread indifference shown towards the kind of illegal conduct that directly affects the lives of ordinary people on a daily basis.

For example, the illegal parking situation in some areas is effectively out of control. Double parking is now prevalent outside the Prince's Building for much of the day and even treble parking can sometimes be seen outside the old Legislative Council building. Illegal parking on double yellow lines is common in Ice House Street. So many vehicles wait in Arbuthnot Road that it can be difficult for public buses to get through. The words 'Vehicles waiting will be prosecuted without warning' can be and are interpreted to mean 'park all day at your leisure' along Queen's Road East. The situation is so bad outside the Hopewell Centre that vehicles with a need to stop briefly are frequently forced to use the first traffic lane, hence squeezing everyone else into a single lane. Once again, buses are the worst affected.

Is this making a mountain out of a molehill? On one level, perhaps it is, but, on another, the implications are socially unhealthy. The people engaged in the illegal activity are invariably the better off, or their employees. And the people whose journey is delayed unnecessarily are almost always the less well off.

Every time a packed bus misses the traffic light because of improper obstruction on the road ahead, the hundred-plus ordinary passengers delayed on the way to work or school can look down on the offending Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs and draw their own conclusions about equality before the law and impartiality of enforcement.

And if the view gains currency that wealth puts the holders above the law and only the poor do not enjoy similar immunity, then cynicism is going to be rife, and this will spill over into the other areas of public policy debate with unhelpful consequences.

So, could the police chief perhaps spare a few men in black to clear the traffic black spots? Flash device optional, of course.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk