Hong Kong/Jakarta/Singapore (11/10) — Hong Kong in 2019 today is like Jakarta 1997-1998. There are protests everywhere, demand of reforms of the police, with the image of the Hong Kong Police Force at an all time low. The Hong Kong blue line is accused of police brutality, excessive force, and a myriad of rumours and innuendos.
The NGOs claiming the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) as running a “Nazi” style concentration camp. Despite this is part of a strategy by the protesters, not addressing the rumours and fake news gives the message credibility. Traditional PR strategies, formulated beautifully are missing the beat. The Hong Kong Freedom Press compared one senior police official to “Hannibal Lecter“. The public has tuned out.
Mr Shanmugam described the Hong Kong police as a “disciplined, highly professional” force and one of the best in Asia. Yet that reputation has disappeared in a matter of a “few weeks” and its relationship with the Hong Kong people has become “severely strained”. Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam
The Hong Kong police leadership is under threat. Attacks against the police are frequent, consequences are a few. The inability to protect themselves are increasingly obvious.
Lost in the debate on who is right and wrong, is role of the leadership of the demonstrations. The training material includes sabotage & asymmetric action, system disruption, decisive dismantling of infrastructure, and massing of public support.
The training focused on militant feminism, scouting of locations and campaign planning. Initially preparation begun in 2012, the running of actions is turning in a subversive urban battlefield. The police announced hunting for an radical anti-government group calling themselves the ‘HKwarriors” extorting businesses if they do not support the extremists.
Despite denial and attempts of getting the message out the monotone message of “we are the good guys” is white noise for the public. “The cops, sorry to say”, said one protester, “are tone deaf”.
“The cops, sorry to say, are tone deaf.”, Hong Kong protester
The public trust in the HKPF has eroded. “They [Hong Kong Police] are not listen. The trust between the public and the police is broken.” an 40-old school teacher told us. Even the most supportive voices are no longer are able to speak up.
The strategy is achieving its result. The economic damage to Hong Kong is done. Goldman Sachs reports that up to 4 billion USD in capital moved from Hong Kong to Singapore.
Hong Kong is facing its first recession in a decade due to the protests, with tourism and retail hardest hit. (Reuters)
An visit to a foreign bank is confirming the report. Hong Kongers are quietly leaving the leaking boat. The ominous signs is not just the rich and famous but the middle class preparing for an exit. A sign similar to the 1997 unrests in Indonesia, later in Thailand and Malaysia.
Public Trust eroded
In an Vox Populi survey conducted by reporters of the Citizen Daily (HK) bureau the perception of the citizen and the relationship with the Hong Kong police was tested. Whereas a few weeks ago, the public was largely undecided about the call for reforms, today citizens interviewed were convinced the old Police Force must go, and a reform of the police, bottom up, is needed.
Even in the ranks grumbling is visible. Resignation, deserting joining the protesters, attacks on police families and frictions tearing police families apart are all so common. A hotel manager spoke in ayomnity to the reporters said, “I am having relatives in the Hong Kong police force, but I must say the girl being sexually harassed, is a plausible story. But ….who knows.” This should give the commanding officers of the HKPF food for thought. The hotel manager held the view the police has lost control.
“The lower ranks are feeling lost and confused,” said one retired officer who remains in close touch with former colleagues. “There is clearly a lack of leadership at key moments, and a sense that there is not enough support from the government and that is having an impact on commanders.” (Reuters)
The public, including police families, are doubting the force credibility that the institution and social fabric in Hong Kong is torn. “If the police cannot protect their families, how can they protect us?”, Madam Chow who runs a concession stand and has a niece in the police force tells us. The public interaction with the Honk Kong Police Force (HKPF) is usually one of public absence. Everyone knows a cop, but usually at a distance.
Today the public trust no longer holds true. The public opinion is firmly against the police. Although the sampling is small, the impression by the public is strong anti-police. Citizens were cautious of endorsing the police all interviewed citizens had strong opinions against the police. The rift will need to years if not a decade to heal.
An academic visiting Hong Kong who studies civil society movements and radicalization added, “Although the agitation of the public is organized, reality is the Hong Kong police goes about Business As Usual. The people have turned off. The Black Bloc demonstrators and militant feminists have mobilized the public.
The “screaming aunties” the older generation of Hong Kong woman lending support to the younger daughters “of the revolution”.” He added, “The systemic hate has boiled over. People have been agitated for years. The government, and the police, have done nothing to counter the radicalization of the public.”
Research shows that both, local Chinese and English language papers, TV and social media, are increasingly reflecting the negative public sentiment.
He said, “the police is isolated, a siege mentality has set in. It is us versus them. Running a message board and hoping things are get for the better wont do the trick.” he added. The public trust erodes further and a vicious cycle started.
Black Bloc gets isolated
Not everything is bleak. The protesters claim the movement is leaderless and non-violent. Neither of the claims are true. The firebombing of the police officer, the use of military style ambushes, the widespread destruction are a tactics synonyms with extremism.
“Government officials only after four months of riots grasps the organized structures is behind the movement”, says a US based academic recently returned from Hong Kong. “The city on the weekend descends in chaos. People instead of going to the movies, dress up and go for a demonstration.”, she added.
Dr William Duncan from the Civil Society Research Institute who recently published a new study on Asian extremist movements said, “the police relationship with the academics, the media and more importantly the public has broken down. Efforts to repair are doomed to fail with the police and political leadership not willing to listen.”, he added. He argued, “to continue the same path which did not work and expect a different outcome shows the stove pipe thinking adopted by the police.”
His views are echoed by a Singaporean think-tank who in 2013 pointed out the correlation between activism of NGOs and militancy. It’s senior academic said, “It is sad how a police force such Hong Kong is unable to understand the correlation between the vanguard of activism leads to the destruction of an vibrant city and its economic power. Warnings were ignored.”
The root cause of the deterioration to a state of near-collapse is the analysis paralysis and stove pipe institutional thinking that led to situation.” The European destruction was titled ‘the European tour of violence’ with German, Spanish, Czech, Norwegian protesters were arrested in the 2019 May Day demonstrations.
He added, “It is an unpopular view and gets you quickly titled as a crank if anyone suggests extremism by the LGBTQ community, is linked to Antifa, the Black Bloc and the French Yellow Vest. Throw in the anarchists who firebombed police officers in Hong Kong, the banks in Greece, destroyed the ATMs in Hong Kong and sabotaged the Mass Transit system (MTR) and the average police officials rolls his eyes. Unfortunately it is the case. The extremist left is back!”
Lessons from the Region
Now, after more than ten years Jakarta, and the institution of the Indonesian police has improved.
In 2016 the Indonesian Police was still included in the three least trusted institutions by the public. But in 2018 law enforcement institution is in the top three institutions with the best public trust.
How can the Police change their image from negative to positive in the eyes of the public?
When he was appointed as National Police Chief, Tito was given a mandate by President Joko Widodo so that he focused on two things. First to maintain the unity, cohesiveness and internal solidarity of the National Police. Second, continue Police’s reforms thoroughly and consistently.
The President stressed that the reform of the National Police is the key to facing the future. Ranging from recruitment to service to the community, ranging from changes in the behavior of police personnel. “I want National Police reforms to be truly solid,” Jokowi said.
New priorities were set. The eradication of crime whose consequences can be estimated (contingency). For example, terrorism, intolerance conflict, mass conflict.
Tito stressed that he had proactively try to prevent and deal with these crimes. Ways to overcome these problems include promoting the function of intelligence and community development and promoting the principle of prevention. “When it happens (crime), enforce the law professionally without creating new problems,” he said.
The chief did not want any mistakes in handling crime, so it caused many victims. “That raises a new problem,” he said.
In addition, according to Tito, there is still a culture that is not yet in the body of the National Police that needs to be improved so that the community becomes safer and more comfortable. The police must be more friendly and serve the community. That’s the important point.
He hoped that officers who had just graduated from the Police Academy would become agents of reform to improve the culture of the National Police. The President considered the police to be a major milestone in maintaining political security and stability in the country.
In two years, Indonesia big agenda starting from the Asian Games, the Asian Para Games, the IMF World Bank Meeting, the regional heads elections and the most important thing for democracy – the presidential election.
The Indonesian police still have lack of citizen’s demands, but they have learned how to serve and protect people better than before. The society begin to respect and appreciate them. Maybe the Hong Kong police could do the same. Listening, the hardest part for the Hong Kong Police, to the examples learned the hard way.