The day Hong Kong’s innocence died at the hands of a Mong Kok mob

Peter Kammerer says the blatant attack on authority by rioters has driven a stake into the heart of a city renowned for being tolerant, safe and law-abiding

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 2:55pm

Hong Kong’s innocence has died. It departed this earth in the early hours of the second day of the Year of the Monkey with a sickening thud as a brick thrown by a rioter hit the body of a police officer. Bit by bit, in the subsequent hail of footpath paving, glass bottles, wood and whatever else came to the hands of the mob, it was dismembered until it was no longer recognisable. All that remains of it now resides in our memories.

READ MORE: Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong brands Mong Kok rioters ‘radical separatists inclined to terrorism’

That may seem a dramatic way to look at the events in Mong Kok, but there has not been so blatant an attack against authority since the anti-British riots of 1967. Hong Kong has obviously progressed since those days, with the squatter areas gone and reasonable standards of living, work and education. Our city prides itself on being international in outlook and character, standing shoulder to shoulder with London and New York. For some of its citizens to have turned their backs on what has been achieved in the belief that violence is the best way to get what they want is, to my mind, shocking.

Before the riot, I thought of Hong Kong as being a toy town of sorts, cocooned from the harsh realities of a world full of extremes. There are many countries and cities where going out after dark is not recommended. They are dog-eat-dog places, where being alert against serious crime is an everyday reality. Yet, here, we are able to go almost anywhere at any time, can trust the person sitting next to us on the bus and are more than likely to have a lost wallet or handbag returned, contents intact.

Before the riot, I thought of Hong Kong as being a toy town of sorts, cocooned from the harsh realities of a world full of extremes

There’s nothing secret about Hong Kong Indigenous, one of the groups behind the riot. Its Facebook page clearly spells out what it’s about, what it wants and how it believes its aims can be achieved. In short, it says that peaceful methods of objection and protest have failed and now it’s time to get tough. There is nothing wrong with openly saying such things in a city where laws protect the right to free speech; carrying out such words with actions is obviously a different matter.

How such people came about in a city that prides itself on being tolerant, safe and law-abiding mystifies me. For all the gripes about politics, housing, job opportunities and inequality, it can’t be denied that what Hong Kong provides is reasonable when compared to other societies. There will always be those who feel hard done by, who are dissatisfied with what they have and feel they deserve more. A city with massive public financial reserves that are explained away as being necessary to protect the US dollar peg is bound to come under pressure to be more caring and sharing.

These are negotiable matters. The government and citizens have forums and ways of discussing challenges and problems. There are avenues for protest. Democratic elections are an ideal, but that path has for now been closed and the reasons have been thoroughly explained by Beijing.

READ MORE: ‘Conflict of interest’: Mong Kok riot probe likely to be led by director of police operation

Attacking police, vandalising vehicles and setting fires will not achieve any aims. All they lead to is condemnation, demands that perpetrators be dealt with harshly and preventative measures. I don’t know the backgrounds of those arrested and charged with rioting; what sort of school they went to, how wealthy their families are or whether they are employed. Single-handedly, though, they have damaged our city’s reputation.

There is now understandably soul-searching as to where society has gone wrong. But it won’t be found in the violence of a John Woo movie or computer games that feature death and destruction. The riot is the stuff of cults and criminals and, with the genie out of the bottle, difficult times now lie ahead. For me, it means the end of the innocence.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post