Mong Kok riot

Discontent is no excuse for violence, but questions need to be answered

The government has to address the issues of poverty, housing, education, inequality and opportunities for the younger generation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 11:03pm

The shockwaves from the Mong Kok riot continue to reverberate in our city and beyond. Not for more than a decade has such violence been witnessed on the streets and the world well knows that; it is why there has been as much surprise abroad as at home. In an instant, our city’s reputation for being a safe and peaceful place was damaged; restoring what has been eroded will not be easy. All manner of questions have been raised and they need to be properly dealt with to restore lost confidence.

Police bore the brunt of the attacks and the morale of officers has understandably taken a hit. They were specifically targeted by the rampaging mobs and dozens were injured. Caught unawares, officers on duty were outnumbered and ill-equipped. With better intelligence and coordination, events may have been brought under control quicker.

The attackers had carefully planned their assault. Many of the city’s police had been assigned for new year duty elsewhere, including for a parade in Tsim Sha Tsui and fireworks over Victoria Harbour later that day. Riots are all but unthinkable in so law-abiding a city, so the force was not prepared to properly deal with such an occurrence. A review of training, procedures, weaponry and tactics is necessary.

Charging those arrested with rioting is a good move. It gives the courts the power to impose a tough sentence on the guilty. Violence can never be tolerated. Police and the judiciary have to be given every means to prevent and deter.

The removal of illegal food sellers was behind protests that pre-empted the riot; the targeting by authorities of people with few other means of income at a time of year when leniency was expected was seized upon by those with a political agenda. Food safety has to be dealt with stringently, but questions raised about the hawker licensing system are still valid. The process could perhaps be streamlined to make setting up a stall more straightforward. The narrow streets of a district like Mong Kok do not easily lend themselves to carts and tables, so there is still every need for inspections.

Discontent is undeniably rising in Hong Kong. Fundamentally, the government has to address the issues of poverty, housing, education, inequality and opportunities for younger generations.

No matter what the discontent, there can never be any excuse for violence. But the myriad questions and matters that the riot has raised cannot go unanswered.