Of all the protest movements around the world this year, the one in Hong Kong is now the longest and, increasingly, the most violent. It may also be the most hate filled. Many of the police and demonstrators have turned a clash of values over Hong Kong’s governance into a calamity of profanities and rage toward each other.
This is odd considering the protests began in June to protect rule of law in the Chinese territory from the kind of arbitrary and often personal justice of the mainland’s ruling Communist Party. Hong Kong police, once considered Asia’s finest, have become brutal and indiscriminate toward the largely peaceful protesters. They shot at least one unarmed demonstrator, for example, while also driving a motorbike into a crowd.
Their tougher tactics have emboldened a radical wing of protesters to harass police and their families, and to toss petrol bombs during street confrontations. Name-calling has escalated. The territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, called the protesters “enemies of the people.”
It would seem the most practical steps to end this spiral of hate and violence would be for Mrs. Lam to swiftly and credibly investigate police abuses and to grant amnesty to nonviolent protesters. With China’s rulers largely in charge of Hong Kong now, that is unlikely to happen. Fearful of its own people, the Communist Party cannot appear weak. Therefore, the protesters themselves must end their antipathy toward police to stop the dehumanization on both sides.
They should listen to Edward Leung, the pro-democracy leader who has most inspired these latest demonstrations. His slogan, “Retake Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” has become the most widely chanted phrase during the protests. He is in prison serving a six-year sentence for his role in a 2016 street brawl with police. Not only did he apologize for the incident, he admitted he “could not suppress his anger.” He is admired for his willingness to be jailed as well as his honesty.
In July, Mr. Leung sent a message from prison that the protesters should not resort to personal loathing of the police and others. “I earnestly call on you not to be dominated by hatred – one should always stay vigilant and keep thinking when in peril,” he wrote.
Like famous freedom fighters who have spent time in jail, such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Leung may know that hatred in the heart cannot win a battle over ideas in public thought. China is a formidable foe but even its leaders have shown some restraint in the face of the numbers of protesters in Hong Kong and their influence on global opinion. The demonstrators are standing up for what they love – such as universal suffrage and judicial independence. What’s hate got to do with it?