Why did protesters decide to tear bricks out of the sidewalk in Hong Kong on the night of February 8 and fight with police, risking arrest or abuse, even after police fired shots?
Hong Kong’s Next Magazine (February 16th issue) answers those questions by interviewing three protesters and rioters. Hong Kong democracy supporters are angry after years of being ignored by the government and politicians, having had their demands go unanswered, and having been hit with pepper spray and instances of police brutality during the mostly non-violent Occupy Central protests of 2014.
The three protesters were all given pseudonyms by the magazine, as there have been over 60 people arrested in the first week after the riot. Two were men and one was a women. Two came out after a police officer fired his weapon.
“A Bo”, who joined the protests from the start, a man born in the 1980’s, said he thought society is stuck in a rut and the mainstream democracy movement hasn’t been able to move forward through attempts at compromise. He thought more radical actions were the only answer.
“If you have too many fears, you have no way to protest,” he said, citing Occupy Central as one example of a movement that was paralyzed by anxiety. Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the Hong Kong University law professor who devised and led the Occupy Central campaign, spent much year leading up to the protests thinking about just protest theory and devising a code of conduct, but his strategy was ineffective. He almost chickened out; Tai ended up calling for the occupation to start after HKU students already started a short-term occupation on their own.
A Bo also took issue with pan-democrats who seem too critical of grassroots protesters at times. Various pan-democratic parties, of the nine who hold elected seats in the Legislative Council, have condemned certain protest groups for extreme actions like trying to break into the LegCo. The Democratic Party, which was criticized in 2010 for forging a compromise with the government, also condemned the Mongkok riots. The various pan-democratic parties often fight with each other over tactics and policies.
“No matter what we do, it seems like our fellow-travelers always denounce us in the end,” A Bo said. “The day the pan-democrats decide to finally wake up, we will already have dug our own graves.”