My Take

No excuses: Mong Kok rioters must be brought to justice

Whatever the grievances, violence on the streets of Hong Kong cannot and should not be tolerated

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2016, 2:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 2:59pm

For people long accustomed to the safety and stability of our city, the riot in Mong Kok must come as a profound shock. The viciousness of the rioters went well beyond anything we have experienced in recent memory, including the confrontational protests during the so-called “Yellow Umbrella” movement more than a year ago.

READ MORE: Hong Kong tense after Mong Kok mob violence on first day of Lunar New Year

The chaos ostensibly started with a crackdown on illegal street-food hawkers. But it was quickly hijacked by radical elements such as localist groups reportedly associated with Hong Kong Indigenous and the University of Hong Kong’s student magazine The Undergrad.

Rioters went after police with the full intention to cause serious harm. Masked men cornered and isolated individual officers before attacking them with bricks, metal rods and bottles. They piled up debris and set them on fire to serve as roadblocks.

Sadly, more than 80 officers and at least half a dozen journalists were injured. More than two dozen arrests were made and an officer fired two warning shots, the first such action by police in decades. From television footage, the warning shots appeared to be fully justified as an injured officer was on the ground being attacked by vicious thugs while his colleagues were struggling to pull him to safety.

READ MORE: How Hong Kong’s first night in the Year of the Monkey descended into mayhem

For most of Monday night and early yesterday morning, rioters used any hard objects they could find as weapons. It appears most were young people and some were students. The streets returned to quiet yesterday afternoon, but it’s not clear we have seen the last of the disturbances. We certainly do not want this to turn into Occupy 2.0. But given the readiness of some radical localists to exploit any minor conflict to spark a riot, the city needs to prepare itself for more trouble ahead. This is what happens when localism runs amok.

Police yesterday again showed remarkable restraint and professionalism. But some local media and pan-democratic groups will no doubt again criticise their response in order to fan further social discontent and simmering anti-police sentiment.

Whatever mistakes or shortcomings the government may have been responsible for or serious problems some sectors of the community are facing, nothing justifies the violent behaviour of the rioters. So let’s not make excuses for those thugs. Those responsible must be made to bear the full weight of law enforcement.