It is undeniable that the raging civic unrest in the past two months has dealt a serious blow to the economy at a time when it is reeling from external threats arising from the nagging Sino-US trade dispute.
It is also clear for all to see that the police has displayed considerable restraints and professionalism in riot control in face of angry mobs that were bent on inciting front line officers with incessant taunting and insults to break their morale.
But the police appears to be losing the publicity war and that’s what gives rise to the greatest challenge to law and order which is the foundation of the economy and, of course, the society as a whole.
Incessant condemnation of violence, accompanied by images of protesters throwing bricks and fire bombs at the police, shooting projectiles with giant slingshots at police stations and setting fire on the streets seem to have done little in swaying public opinion against the protesters.
Disrupting railway service, blocking roads and mass rallies that shut down the airport twice were transgressions that didn’t appear to have triggered a widespread public backlash against the offenders.
But television news footage showing a frail-looking young woman, who was allegedly shot by a police projectile, writhing in pain on the ground with blood streaming down her face has outraged millions of viewers. Latest report that says she might lose one of her eyes has poured oil on the fire of flaring public anger.
Meanwhile, the police commissioner paid a visit to an officer at the hospital for treatment of burns on his legs caused by a protester firebomb. As for the young woman who might lose an eye, the police advised her to report the case to the police to initiate an investigation.
The government is right that most people in Hong Kong reject violence of any kind. But to win the battle against violent protests that are posing a serious threat to the economy and disrupting people’s daily life, the use of force needs to be accompanied by a show of compassion to win public support.
Of course, the police is not without compassion. Images of a riot police officer comforting a young man beaten by unknown attackers while waiting for the ambulance to arrive are mightier than the many thousands of words in praise of the force.
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