Protesters who resort to violence betray the freedoms we hold dear

Alice Wu castigates the instigators of recent violent protests against new town development for their lack of social responsibility

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 3:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 3:00am

We're in the midst of World Cup fever and organisers have been slammed for ignoring the heat, literally, with the lack of timeouts deemed "absurd". We've also been afflicted with protest fever over new town development, although no one can say for sure whether the heat and humidity of the Hong Kong summer has impaired judgment.

The plight and anger of villagers at risk of losing their homes to make room for development isn't hard to understand. We live in a city where people have the right to protest, and that's a freedom we must hold dear. But there is no excuse for the violence, or the "war" two lawmakers have declared on new town development.

Do these two legislators really know what actual war entails? Loss of life and carnage. Most of us would not wish that on anyone. To declare war in this context is insulting.

Civic Passion founder Wong Yeung-tat has been really vocal about his desire for these acts of protest - or, let's call it what it is, violence - to "escalate". Passion is one thing; diminishing self-control in the "heat of the moment" is another; but to wish for the violent protests to "escalate"? Seriously?

And he hasn't been shy about spreading the blame either, saying that "what we do will depend on the will of those who are there". That sort of reasoning is befuddling. Declare your personal wish for things to heat up, and then, if things turn bad, it's everyone else's fault?

With a loose cannon around, how can the other opponents of the border town plans be taken seriously, and their "vow" to keep their cool at the Legislative Council rally be considered anything but lip service?

It's hard not to sympathise with the villagers: their protests have been sabotaged by violence that they did not intend. But they, too, must accept that they can't have their cake and eat it.

One Kwu Tung North villager said she supported protesters who employed extreme tactics, but those resorting to violence "would have to understand and bear the consequences" - in other words, they're on their own. Another villager "lamented" the violence and destruction of property, saying it was unexpected. But naivety isn't an excuse. The right to protest does not come with the excuse to blame the "full glare of the media" for things getting out of control.

People who refuse the social responsibility for self-restraint and won't accept the consequences of their own actions must understand that these are traits of narcissists.

There's a price to pay for playing the game of chicken. When something goes wrong, when these people who had fun adding fuel to the fire lose control of events, irreparable damage is done.

We need a time out to digest what has taken over our city. We have to deal with this violent streak. We have to, if we proclaim ourselves supporters of democracy and freedom.

We have the right to be angry but it doesn't mean that aggression is an excusable expression for it. There is a line between exercising a right and abusing that right.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA