Elevated violence in Hong Kong undermines purpose
A bomb detonates in the middle of the street, obliterating a nearby car and evoking cries of anguish and panic. Pandemonium breaks out as both protesters and the police run around frantically fearing for their lives. Amid all the chaos, knives are thrown, tear gas is employed, bricks are hurled and a scene of utter violence and mayhem ensues.
This is the very scene unfolding in Hong Kong, as protesters fight for greater independence and autonomy of the region over China. Democracy and freedom, the principles that these protesters are fighting for, are undoubtedly invaluable ideals. In addition to protecting the freedoms of speech and assembly, the demonstrators are striving for universal suffrage and an inquiry into alleged police brutality. However, the aforementioned scene is so chaotic that one has to question whether violence is the most effective way for these protesters to convey their message.
“Violence is never the answer.” This adage, albeit cliché, is definitely applicable to these protests. Nonviolent, civil protests can yield results that are just as effective, if not more, than violent ones. No cause, no matter how noble, can justify some of the violent methods these protesters and police have employed. For example, on Sunday, Oct. 13, a demonstrator stabbed an officer’s neck, rendering the officer in critical condition, as reported by The New York Times. Some protester groups have also used bricks, poles and Molotov cocktails to make their point. With these examples of violence, the message of freedom is drowned out in all the chaos.
Some of these protesters, as 21-year-old Jackson Chan told The New York Times, claim that there is “no other option” but to resort to violence to convey their message. They are fearful, quite understandably, that the local government will not meet their demands for democracy and freedom if they do not use more extreme methods. However, violence only begets more violence and may even inhibit progress toward their ideals of freedom. As some front line protesters continue to advocate for their goals aggressively, police will continue to use violent tactics as well and vice versa.
An example of such was when an 18-year old protester was shot in the chest by a police officer during a brawl between demonstrators and the police and was left bleeding on the ground in critical condition. More violence, regardless of whether it originates from the police or the protesters, will only normalize the use of force and make the situation more tense than it already is. Because the police are unlikely to relinquish the use of force anytime soon, it is up to the protesters to remain strong and continue with a peaceful, nonviolent protest.
In a tumultuous and chaotic scene, there is only one thing that is heard and focused on — the violence. Instead of furthering the virtuous ideas of freedom and democracy, violent methods only distract from the overall message and may even lose valuable supporters for the cause. According to CNN, many ardent and supportive protesters felt their faith to the cause wavering in the face of increasing violence. These pro-Hong Kong supporters who were driven away by the violence cited events such as the airport incident, when a mob of protesters beat up a man they claimed to be an undercover police officer, vandalization of politically neutral shops and use of protester petrol bombs as the reasons behind their wavering stance. Because of the loss of valuable supporters, shifting to more violent tactics is counterproductive to the cause.
That is not to say that the protesters are the only ones inciting violence. In fact, both parties are contributing to the violent atmosphere. The police have employed many unnecessary violent measures, such as firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets in the Tsim Sha Tsui harbor-front hotel district at protesters. However, feeling indignant (and justifiably so), the protesters responded back by setting fire to shops and hurling petrol bombs at a police station. This response, although provoked first by the police, was the incorrect one, in my opinion. Regardless of who initiated the violence, by responding back in such an aggressive way, the protesters are setting a precedent of justifying violence against those with different perspectives and views of the world. Although some of these protesters are fighting for what they feel is the greater good, they should not contribute to a more hectic and violent atmosphere. Using violence is not the best answer.
The Hong Kong protests initially started on June 9 as a peaceful protest against an extradition bill that would allow for residents in Hong Kong to be extradited (handed over to the jurisdiction of a foreign state to be tried for crimes) to mainland China. A million people peacefully marched in the streets of Hong Kong. However, what started off as a peaceful and nonviolent protest in June quickly escalated into violence and brutality, as some protesters lobbed bricks at the police on June 12, causing the police to respond back with batons and tear gas. The shift to violence was mainly due to the lack of action done by the Hong Kong government, as Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, said that the extradition bill would continue as planned.
Because the protesters believed that violence was the only way to get the attention of the government, they used more harmful measures. However, as the 2018 Armenian revolution has shown, nonviolent, peaceful protests can also accomplish their intended goals. Led by parliament member Nikol Pashinyan, the peaceful anti-government protests and marches were in response to the nomination of Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister, who had already served as president and prime minister, thus violating term limits. These protesters also rebelled against the Republican-controlled government in general. Similar to the Hong Kong protests, the demonstrators in the 2018 Armenian revolution were against both a powerful figure in government and the government overall. The 2018 Armenian Revolution was accomplished with the use of civil disobedience, demonstrations and sit-ins, eventually culminating in the resignation of Sargsyan. Through their peaceful actions, the protesters in the Armenian Revolution show that nonviolent methods have merit.
Instead of promoting a scene of destruction and chaos, the protesters should advocate for their goals in a civil and nonviolent way. Perhaps then, their voices will be better heard.
By Raymond Dunn, Opinion editor
Photo courtesy of Studio Incendo