Let''s not denigrate all police for transgressions of a few

Updated: 2017-03-17 08:05

By Paul Surtees(HK Edition)

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Paul Surtees argues that despite the recent controversial convictions of seven serving police officers, the SAR is still very well served by its police force

In many other parts of the world, the local police act exactly as a law unto themselves - meaning that they are in fact themselves lawless, and uncontrolled in their work. In some unfortunate places it is common for them to shoot first and ask questions later. In others, those arrested simply disappear, are murdered, or are brutally tortured to obtain information or confessions. In such ruthless places, gratuitous police brutality is a daily fact of life. It is seldom punished.

Hong Kong is, thankfully, very far from being like those places. Indeed, the Hong Kong Police Force is generally regarded and respected as "Asia's Finest"; indeed one of the most effective police forces in the world. It is a reputation that "Asia's Finest" wear with great pride, having earned it with many years of professional conduct and police work.

Let''s not denigrate all police for transgressions of a few

Unfortunately, there has been much loose talk and exaggeration in response to the recent conviction and sentencing of seven serving Hong Kong police officers for assaulting an "Occupy Central" protester more than two years ago. Some commentators seek to extrapolate from this isolated and rare case of police officers overstepping the mark a rationale to smear the entire force and to denigrate the whole government service! But let us keep a sense of proportion here.

There has been much sympathy expressed for the present plight of these seven police officers, who are now in prison serving time for taking matters into their own hands on that fateful night when tensions between violent protesters and police officers desperately trying to keep the peace were at an all-time high. Few could deny that the police at that troubled time were severely provoked. Indeed, some protesters apparently went out of their way to taunt and to heap personal insults at the police officers manning the barricades, with some officers practically fighting a running battle with the more violent protesters throwing missiles.

It must be recognized that the protester the seven singled out for punishment had thrown foul-smelling liquid at the officers. This is important because it's not as if the seven had simply gone berserk and randomly assaulted anybody indiscriminately. Their actions, however regrettable, must be put into the proper context and into a rational perspective.

Their victim was far from being a completely innocent bystander, since he has also been convicted and sentenced to a jail term for assaulting the police and resisting arrest. While two wrongs do not make for a right, one must take into account the intense pressure, and apparent danger, all police officers on duty faced on that fateful night. Unlike their overseas counterparts in similar situations, they did not resort to use of their firearms or to beating everybody within reach to disperse the highly charged crowd.

Ironically, the Hong Kong Police Force stands as a victim of its own well-intentioned and deeply ingrained forbearance and professional conduct. Protesters in those places with police brutality mentioned above, and even in many Western democracies, wouldn't dare to attack the police, for they know that their aggression would very likely result in them being shot, if not their getting heads bloodied. The fact that some of our hotheaded young protesters do dare to obstruct or even to assault our police officers speaks of a back-handed complement to our finest. The rioters are banking on restrained professional conduct from them and they generally get it.

(HK Edition 03/17/2017 page1)