Benny Tai: Letter to Hong Kong Frontline Police

Original published in Apple Daily on 14 July 2014: Read Original
Translation on 15 July 2014

Dear frontline police officers in Hong Kong,

511 citizens were removed and arrested after more than a thousand people participated in the sit-in at the Charter Road pedestrian precinct during the early morning of 2nd July. Here I commend the frontline police officers on carrying out their duties in a professional and restrained manner, which proves that the frontline police force in Hong Kong meets international standards.

I understand that frontline police officers work under immense pressure amidst sharpening social conflicts. The “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” movement that I initiated has led to huge controversies in Hong Kong society in the last one year or so because the movement involves potentially ten thousand people blocking the roads. As it will be the frontline police that are responsible for dealing with this situation, I am deeply sorry for causing any worries to them. 

Once ten thousand people occupy Central, frontline police will have to take the orders from the government and senior police officers to clear up the streets in front of the whole world. In the event that there are so many protestors that they cannot be removed individually, a higher extent of force, such as water cannons or tear gas, may be used to disperse the crowd. Frontline police will likely be accused of applying excessive force to peaceful protestors. I can fully imagine the pressure faced by them.

It will also be understandable if frontline police put the blame on Occupy Central participants. After all, in Hong Kong the rule of law has conventionally been taken as law-abiding by the people. Occupy Central, an act clearly against the law, seems to deviate from concept of rule of law as understood by the people of Hong Kong.

However, I hope frontline police officers understand the idea behind the Occupy Central movement. People do not participate in the movement for fun or purely out of passion without thinking. They are not a bunch of opportunists looking for political capital. They are a group of people who love Hong Kong, people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for a better, more democratic, and fairer Hong Kong. Participants of civil disobedience know they risk being arrested, charged and put into jail. They fully respect social order, just like frontline police officers, and therefore are willing to assume legal liabilities on breaking the law. What they actually want, however, is to build up an order of justice.

Participants of civil disobedience do not see frontline police as enemy. They understand that the use of certain extent of force is just executing orders from the superiors. Likewise, I hope frontline police officers do not see the protestors as scoundrels who are looking to challenge the police and create troubles.

I also want frontline police officers to know that beneath the uniform you are fellow Hong Kong citizens of the protestors. Being Hong Kong citizens, you embrace the core values of Hong Kong and treasure the rule of law, human rights, fairness and democracy just like any other Hong Kong citizens. We probably stand in different positions but our desire for the implementation of genuine universal suffrage in 2017 should be the same. 

When it comes to occupying Central, I hope frontline police officers, when executing orders from their superiors, will critically think whether those orders are the best to the police, to the HKSAR government, and to Hong Kong. What makes the people resort to civil disobedience? Why do senior police officers give such orders? I believe frontline police officers in Hong Kong are intelligent people who are capable of carrying out their duties while properly handling peaceful protestors. I also want them to know they are not just citizens but also human beings with conscience beneath their uniforms. Therefore I cannot agree with what the Commissioner of Police has said: “There is no question of violating the conscience as long as the law is strictly enforced”. Having studied law for thirty years, I know law is not equal to conscience because there are evil laws. Even good laws can be enforced in an evil manner. As such strict enforcement of law does not guarantee conscience.

Once again, I would like each and every frontline police officer to understand that behind the role of police officer you are a citizen, and that behind the role of citizen you are a human being with conscience. Just like all the protestors. Just like all the 7 million Hong Kong people.

Here I wish all the best in the work of our frontline police officers. 

Benny Tai
“Occupy Central with Love and Peace” Convener