When you disrespect Hong Kong police, you don't deserve to be treated gently by them

Yonden Lhatoo says an online video of a Hong Kong family’s tirade directed at an officer shows a contempt for authority that must not be tolerated

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 7:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

I came across a shameful viral video online last week showing a Hong Kong police officer being verbally abused by a family he had pulled over for a traffic offence.

The 2½ -minute clip, taken from inside the family’s vehicle, shows the young officer writing up a ticket while a belligerent man, woman and child yell at him to hurry up. The man launches into one of the foulest tirades I’ve heard in Cantonese, bringing the officer’s anatomy, mother and entire family into the expletive-laden equation.

The policeman takes his time with the booking, but does nothing about the aural assault. I’m impressed by his self-control and composure, but also incredulous that the police force allows its frontline personnel to put up with such vile abuse.

What’s even more appalling is that this family decided to show off their “victory” over the policeman and post the video clip online. Talk about delusional self-righteousness. Their only saving grace is that they had to post a follow-up apology after triggering a barrage of condemnation from other internet users.

Let me say this to those three people in the vehicle, including the child, and anyone else in Hong Kong who might take their side: You have no idea how lucky you are to live in a city policed by such gentlemen.

Imagine if this had happened in the world’s “greatest” democracy, the United States, which often lectures us on human rights. Someone would have been manhandled, tasered or perhaps even shot dead.

Ditto in India, the world’s biggest democracy. A search on YouTube for recently leaked video clips of police in the state of Gujarat going on the rampage in August will give you an idea of how bad it is out there. They can be seen vandalising public property, smashing car windows with sticks and rifle butts, and terrorising citizens with total impunity.

There’s a whole bunch of other video clips online showing Hongkongers berating police officers. They’re displayed like trophies celebrating people’s success in “sticking it to the man”.

This is apparently a spillover from last year’s Occupy protests, when the lines between what’s legal and illegal were blurred to the extent that police officers were expected to not only allow lawbreakers to block roads in the name of democracy but to actually protect them while they broke the law for 79 straight days.

Without getting into the justification – or lack thereof – for the civil disobedience movement, I just want to say the drubbing that morale took last year was damaging enough for the police force. This kind of public-versus-police fallout is the last thing our city needs.

Like it or not, one of Hong Kong’s biggest strengths is its police force. Our officers are not called “Asia’s finest” for nothing. Granted, the bad apples bob up occasionally, but there’s an effective system in place to sort them out. Disrespecting and demoralising them will undermine the foundations of the safest city in the world. That would be the real beginning of Hong Kong’s downfall.

The question of criminalising verbal abuse against police officers has been pretty much swept under the carpet, given that Hongkongers are acutely aware of their rights and freedoms and ultra-sensitive to anything they see as a threat to them.

So frontline officers take it on the chin, even though theoretically they have the right to arrest offenders on the grounds of “disorderly conduct in a public place”, or “resisting or deliberately obstructing police in the execution of their duties”.

This is more than just a matter of foul-mouthed nimrods being obnoxious to frontline officers. At a deeper level, it reflects a misguided sense of entitlement and contempt for authority that should be nipped in the bud. If you think we have it bad without Western-style democracy in Hong Kong, wait until you get Western-style law enforcement. Then you’ll really have something to cry about.

Those who disagree and sympathise with the family in the video should try that kind of tinpot tyranny on London or New York police. They might come back with newfound appreciation and affection for our police officers – if they come back at all from hospital or prison.