Violence begets violence. Hong Kong’s protest movement has degenerated into a tussle to see who can do the most damage to the other side.

The protesters’ objectives are being buried in a fog of pointless vandalism and the government’s sole purpose appears to be to crush opposition under its stormtroopers.

The unfortunate elderly man killed by a flying brick and the man tragically set on fire are just two examples of mindless wickedness with no purpose whatsoever.

The swift and unjustifiable resort to indiscriminate shooting of live rounds by police officers would warrant prosecution for attempted murder had it been done by a member of the public.

Smashing shops and Mass Transit Railway (MTR) ticket machines, burning buses, tearing up the sidewalks to block roads, generally causing mayhem – such behavior is not only criminal but totally counterproductive, transforming widespread public support for the protesters into animosity.

The indiscriminate thuggery exhibited by police tooled up for war has almost destroyed any confidence in the police as a disciplined force charged with keeping the peace. Throwing “Molotov cocktails” and bricks torn up from the street is criminal behavior, but it does not justify the disgusting conduct of the police who have become a legitimized rabble of vigilante thugs.

Hundreds of Molotov cocktails were used by protesters who demanded the release of PolyU students on November 18. Photo: Asia Times

Hong Kong is polarized into unthinking pro-protesters, unthinking pro-police and an increasingly bewildered mass wondering where it is all going and how, if ever, it will end.

Searching for a solution demands that we ask how it was that we got to this point.

Undoubtedly, there was increasing dissatisfaction, especially among the younger population, at the creeping erosion of Hong Kong’s identity, exacerbated by the accelerating wealth disparity that is most evident in the housing problem.

As Beijing’s fingers reached ever more insidiously into their way of life, the young – from secondary-school students to professionals in all walks of life – lost hope in their future.

Against this dry tinder, the extradition bill was more of a blowtorch than a spark.

Only someone totally out of touch with the reality of Hong Kong could have dreamed up something as ill-conceived and explosive as the extradition bill. But that is Carrie Lam.

In any civilized society, the head of government would be doing his or her utmost to ensure that matters would not become so out of control. Not so Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose selective deafness and failure to reach out for compromise have thrown gasoline on the flames.

A teargas canister explodes on Nathan Road on November 18. Photo: Asia Times

From the very start, she manifested an earth-shattering silence, visited upon the governed with a glacial glare and those mutant eyes that provide a window into a gravely sociopathic character.

One or two million people protesting peacefully against the extradition bill were like raindrops on Teflon.

Far too late in the game she responded, but even then half-heartedly and with manifest lack of sincerity.

Only the seriously deluded would have expected statesmanship from Lam, John Lee, Teresa Cheng or Stephen Lo. Their combined response was to give carte blanche to the police, who all too quickly began to resemble the gormless automatons in Star Wars.

It is no exaggeration to say that they have become institutional hooligans, almost completely out of control and exacting violent retribution on everyone they regard as opposed to them, which happens to be a massive percentage of the population.

Where is the quiet voice of reason to still the angst of generations of young people who see no future for themselves or their culture and way of life?

Thousands have been arrested for a calendar of transgressions from participating in unauthorized marches to arson attacks. Each case will have to be processed through the courts because we still have rule of law in Hong Kong.

But what of the police officers who exceed even the widest interpretation of their duties while keeping their identity concealed so that no formal complaint can be lodged?

Who will investigate the obvious complicity between Triad gangsters and the police, in the attacks on MTR passengers in Yuen Long?

Not content with upping the arsenal of weapons to be misused against the public, Lam, Lee, Cheng and Lo, sounding like a firm of disbarred lawyers and acting like inhabitants of the Third Reich’s chancellery, declare a ban on the wearing of masks. Happily, Hong Kong’s independent judiciary ruled that unconstitutional.

Respected and highly reputable members of the community have urged Lam to appoint an independent commission of inquiry under a judge to look into every aspect of the unrest, not just police violence.

But no. Lam is adamant that this can be handled by the Independent Police Complaints Council. She still does not grasp that what is needed is an inquiry into every aspect of the protest, not just unlawful and indiscriminate violence by the police force.

In fairness, the IPCC, including its co-opted foreign members, have commented that the council is not equipped to address the issues.

Among the key issues that need to be looked into are who has been funding the protesters; at what point and why the peaceful protest mutated into urban warfare; who authorized agents provocateurs to infiltrate the protests and what their instructions were; what, if any, instructions were given to the police in relation to the use of their weaponry; what, if any, rules of engagement, were set; and what laws justified police entry into hospitals to arrest patients.

These point to matters of strategy at the highest levels of government, which provides a clue as to why Lam sets her stony face so implacably against an independent judicial commission of inquiry.

The protesters’ demands are a rag bag of the realizable and the unattainable. Yet the judicial commission of inquiry commands universal support except from those who have something to hide. The demands for immunity from prosecution and against characterizing the protest as a riot are legal matters that must be determined by the independent judiciary.

The wellspring of the demand for democratic representation is the Basic Law itself – the provisions of which have been undisturbed, by design.

An appropriate response to this demand would be establishing a body genuinely representative of all sections of the community to consider how to move Hong Kong to a format in which the population as a whole plays a direct part in the special administrative region’s governance, rather than the current gerrymandered excuse for a Legislative Council.

Appointment of an independent judicial commission of inquiry and, for want of a better title, an independent governance commission would meet the reasonable demands and allay fears of the imposition of the mainland’s authoritarian rule.

The young people of Hong Kong, who represent its present and future, desperately need to be given realistic hope, not to be treated to a dialogue of the deaf.

I have in mind two sayings of Oliver Cromwell, lord protector of the commonwealth of England, both of which apply to Carrie Lam.

“No one rises so high as [s]he who knows not whither [s]he is going.”

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken?”

Neville Sarony QC is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.

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