September 29, 2014
From: Ulf Olofsson – resident of Hong Kong
1 October 2014 footnote: It has been brought to my attention that this letter has been used by anti-Occupy Central groups to show that foreigners too are “against the violent protesters”. I am not part of any anti-movement and do not endorse any such opinion. Based on the hundreds of comments this open letter has generated I understand that it appears as though I’m pro-police and anti-protesters. This is very far from the truth. This open letter may come across biased towards the police but that is mainly because of what I experienced personally at a specific (and limited) location and with specific (and limited) social media feeds. The examples I bring up are only meant to serve as anecdotal perspectives towards treating each other with more respect and tolerance and does not intend to push any political agenda or take a stance for or against either the police or the protesters. Though the comment section is long, if you want more clarification I invite you to read my responses and then it will be very clear as to where I stand and what I’m trying to accomplish. – Ulf
2nd footnote 1 October 2014: Apparently my open letter has been translated into Chinese and is being circulated. I appreciate someone taking the time to do so, but I have not been sent a copy, nor have I had someone verify the translation who knows both English and Cantonese well. If anyone has a link to the Chinese translation or knows who did it, please forward me the link or information. Thanks.
Update 1 October 2014 10:30 pm: Someone whom I don’t know translated my open letter into Chinese. Apparently the translation is a bit rough around the edges but relays the gist of my English original. I’m sharing it here for those who have a hard time getting through the English version. Just please don’t expect me to answer in Chinese or being able to read any Chinese comments https://www.facebook.com/HKInsights/posts/694472653981944?fref=nf.
I was personally in Admiralty yesterday afternoon and early evening and followed minute by minute the events that unfolded as the public protesters clashed with police and tear gas was used. My social media feeds (and those of my wife’s) were in hyperdrive. The overwhelming majority of posts and statements were not about the resolve to stand up for a more democratic Hong Kong, nor did they cover any organized direction from anybody. What they did cover however were statement after statement, photo after photo, video after video with one unified message: The Hong Kong police are the evil scum of earth!
Where violations against the law occurred, and where human rights violations happened and were uncalled for and excessive force was used, yes, please take swift and just action! I am not however going to address the right or wrong doing of the Hong Kong police force as far more qualified people than I can do so. I am going to address that those targeting the police instead of the real issues, the real targets, will get Hong Kong and its citizen absolutely nowhere, and if anything will only have a damaging and regressing effect. Note that I state “targeting” and am not disputing the fact that you are angry about what the police did.
I’m not from here, but I do live and work in Hong Kong and have done so for a little more than 4 years. I’ve been around – 20 years in the U.S. and 20 years in Sweden where I was born and raised. I’ve been to most of Europe, Central America as well as South Africa and mainland China. I have a pretty darn good idea of the rest of the world and therefore am able to view Hong Kong from a different perspective than maybe many local citizens. This is not a “right” perspective but is offered as a different perspective.
Not just because I’m not a native here, but because I can compare Hong Kong from personal experience to other parts of the world which gives a broader perspective. I have two friends who are connected to the Hong Kong police force. One is an active officer who was on duty last night. The other one is recently retired. The active officer happens to be a person I really respect. Some of my friends when growing up in Sweden were in the police force. As part of making documentaries I’ve met and experienced police forces in several places of the world.
I experienced the LA riots in 1992 first hand as we helped form a human chain to protect our building. Yesterday I both spoke to and observed various police officers in length. I asked one officer when he started his shift. He said, “5 am.” I asked when it will end. He said, ”When it is over.” By this time it was about 5 pm and he had been standing in 30 degrees heat, in pretty much one location for 12 hours. He had another 10 or so hours to go.
Among the dozens of faces I observed I saw fear, anxiety, worry, and sadness – probably the same type of emotions that went through all of you as the day progressed. As I was talking to a police officer, a young Cantonese guy walked up to me and told me not to talk to the police as they all lie. He asked me in an accusatory way, “Where are you from?” Followed by, “You know nothing!” As I made it clear to him that I was going to continue to speak with the police officer, he walked away proclaiming, “F__k you, you piece of shit!”
Standing there in the midst of the crowd, at least at my particular location, one message became much impregnated into my mind. It wasn’t a message of unity and solidarity. It wasn’t a message about the need for democracy. It wasn’t even a message about standing up for your rights and be heard – the only unanimous message repeated by the crowd was a volley of anger and personal insults of the worst kind hurled at the police from the protesters – and this was before any drastic police action had taken place.
My phone was literally getting heated up from the constant notifications from friends scolding the police on Facebook. The public was understandably angry and so became the police. Orders were issued and there were the clashes, tear gas, etc. Terrible – yes!
I could start to list faults from each side, but my purpose in writing this open letter to you has nothing to do with finding faults. I’m not even trying to defend the police. I’m trying to make a point that what I experienced last night can be best summed up as a mob mentality with those people involved in the observations above (not the protesters as a whole.) It was a sort of social contagion where a concept or idea (in this case about the police) spread like wildfire once it had been stated.
One positive aspect I will acknowledge was that many came together despite long ours of threat of police force and stood resolute to be heard and noticed towards a somewhat common cause.
But I do want to ask you this: If you had been standing outside for 12-14 hours in 30 degrees heat in full uniform trying to do your job while getting berated by verbally abusive people for hours, how would you behave and react? Some people argued that any police officer with a conscience should have quit their job after July 1st. Really? And then what? Anarchy? Others argued that they shouldn’t have followed orders. Tricky argument…
According to several international studies Hong Kong is considered one of the safest cities in the world to live in and it has the third lowest murder rate in the world. Does this maybe have something to do with its police? Per a UN survey in 2006 a full 90% of Hong Kong citizens considered that the police did a “very good job” or a “fairly good job.” So the police became one of the best to one of the worst in less than 8 years? Probably not, but evidently it has gotten worse in later years.
Since I moved to Hong Kong 4 years ago I have never been robbed nor have I heard a gunshot. When living in LA I would hear gun shots almost daily in some parts of the city like South Central. When I was new and not familiar with getting around in HK, where many public on the street would walk away from me when I asked, every police officer I ever encountered gave me the directions I needed, and often with a smile.
Personally I have a hard time grasping how the police can stand dealing with the rotten bottom of society day in and day out, night in and night out. Sometimes I don’t understand why they haven’t lost all faith in humanity. Especially after the night shift street patrol comes home with piss and puke on their uniforms after having been threatened, captured on mobile video and called the worst imaginable names. But I’m very thankful that they are there when I’m sleeping; that they are protecting me and my wife; that they remove the drunken drivers and the pigs that make millions selling drugs to our youth.
Is there corruption in the police? Probably to some degree. Are there bad police officers? Most likely – just as there are bad people in every group in existence on the planet today, and throughout history. The police protect, help and put order into things. That is undeniable.
But sometimes, as in any other activity, there’s an emergency or even catastrophe and things go out of control. Like last night when protesters suddenly charged the barricade of police to gain entrance to the street. Sure, in retrospect it is easy to say, “They should have been calmer; they shouldn’t have used tear gas; they should have found a different solution, etc.” I’m glad I wasn’t one of the policemen that got charged. Not because several of them got hurt and had to be given immediate medical attention. But if I had been charged by an angry crowd after enduring 12 hours of public berating in the sun, I know one thing – I had seconds to make my decisions. In those seconds I may not have had time to go through all the politically correct protocols but I would react pretty much on instinct and I would have most likely not made the most objective decisions, especially if I was angry as well.
In retrospect it is very easy to criticize. Social media and the news media are percolating with police criticism at the time of this writing. For 4 years I lived in the state of Florida, U.S.A. The police in Florida have very different instructions than here in Hong Kong. If there is any threat to someone’s life they shoot. And if they shoot, they can shoot to kill without consequence to the officer. I’m not mentioning this because I think it is right, but to give a different perspective if what happened last night would have taken place in Florida or many other places with completely different rules and values.
In the last several months dozens and dozens of various organized protests have occurred around the world. I am not talking marches for climate, etc – I’m talking about protests, usually against the government or some of their actions. Not one was peaceful and hardly any of them had zero casualties. Some had many casualties.
Currently there is a debate as to the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. I don’t know the answers as I am not a riot expert. But I do know that this debate is not something media and social media should carry out AGAINST the police who patrol our streets day in and day out. That debate should be directed towards those responsible to make decisions.
If we continue to only blame the police the outcome contains no winners. The correct targets are the senior officers, the politicians and those they answer to. As I mentioned before, what I observed yesterday and still am observing through social media is this social contagion where a large portion of the public is following the apparently socially correct attitude – hate the cops! Wrong target!
Where was CY Leung in all this? He was hunkering in his bunker only issuing some politically correct PR statements amounting to nothing. What is a Chief Executive, the top leader of Hong Kong doing hiding instead of guiding and leading his people? The students demanded his presence and demanded to be heard. No response from the region’s leader… He’s a correct target but not the only one. The police received their orders from CY Leung. Not even sure how much Beijing and the China Liaison office played part in this.
I want to make clear, I’m not writing this open letter to criticize the protesters or the people of Hong Kong, but as I’m living and working here I wanted to say something because I know that those aspects of social contagion that I witnessed will not have a good outcome. If you disagree with your Government or in this case both the Government and the decision handed down from Beijing regarding Hong Kong’s democracy, I agree that actions such as non-violent and organized protests and simply not participating in the system you disagree with (such as not going to work or school) could be effective actions to take.
Thousands and thousands are doing that tirelessly right now and my respect is with you!
However, hurling insults at the police for hours on end and demonizing them all throughout news and social media (just as with the police using uncalled for and excessive force) will not help your situation or Hong Kong as a whole. I want to have and live in a better Hong Kong. I know you do too. I hope you can consider what I wrote despite it being an emotional topic and review your own outlook and participation in how you act towards each other and the situation with more tolerance, respect and understanding.
Thank you, Ulf Olofsson