The savage attack on legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan on Sunday struck at the heart of Hong Kong's claim to be a civilised and law-abiding society. What made the crime so frightening was that the violence was inflicted on a public figure inside a crowded fast-food restaurant in Central before the eyes of scores of customers. Whoever masterminded the attack obviously aimed to maximise its shock impact on the public. The message could not be clearer: those who dare to offend as Mr Ho has apparently done would have no way of escaping the punishment meted out to him. Debunking the effectiveness of such a message must now be the priority of the police, if Hong Kong wants to reclaim its image as a safe and peace-loving society. This city must not allow anyone, whatever his motive, to use violence as a means of warning off his enemies, opponents or critics. If such a vicious attack can be made against a lawmaker in the open, one shudders to think what terrible things the underworld could do to ordinary citizens in the back alleys. As a lawyer, Mr Ho has a track record of taking on sensitive cases that other lawyers shun. As a politician, he has spoken out against injustices in Hong Kong and on the mainland. It is possible that some of the powerful interests whose feathers he has ruffled may be tempted to teach him a lesson. That such a thought has been translated into action by at least one party is worrying. Even more disconcerting is the prospect of the crime remaining unsolved. While Hong Kong is not a city riddled with crime and the streets are generally safe, the regrettable truth is that violence against public figures is not uncommon and the police force's record of solving such attacks has been abysmal. In 1998, outspoken talk-show host Albert Cheng King-hon was ambushed outside the radio station where he worked. In 1996, veteran journalist Leung Tin-wai was attacked inside his office by hitmen who posed as visitors. Both suffered serious injuries and the cases sparked widespread outrage in the community. Despite rewards offered by the police for leads, the culprits remain at large. Over the years, other politicians have also been roughed up in various ways, but their attackers have rarely been caught. Trying to apprehend the thugs who battered Mr Ho will be no less difficult. Although the attack took place in a public venue, it came very suddenly. The victims were so stunned that it would not be easy for them to identify their attackers. So were other diners inside the fast-food restaurant. Speaking through his colleagues, Mr Ho yesterday vowed not to bend to the forces of evil. That is what we expect of a legislator who has not shied away from controversies and pressures. Still, we must not underestimate Mr Ho's courage in saying these words. Anybody who has been similarly victimised may conclude that the safest course of action for him and his family would be to do as his enemies want - stop his actions against them and keep quiet. It would be unfortunate, but understandable, if Mr Ho were to do that, as success for his attackers would encourage them to use the same tactics against others. Only Mr Ho is in the best position to know who might have instigated the attack on him. So far, the motive behind the attack remains unknown, and it would not be proper to speculate on its probable causes. However, a disturbing development in recent years is that violence has increasingly been used against those caught up in commercial and political disputes. It is a trend that must not be permitted to spread and become entrenched in Hong Kong. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has rightly said that the police would spare no effort to catch those responsible for attacking Mr Ho. We call on everyone who may have useful information about the case to pass it on to the police. Getting to the bottom of the matter is not just a case of delivering justice to Mr Ho, but ensuring good prevails over evil in Hong Kong.