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A new police assistant commander for the Tsuen Wan district has issued a reminder to his colleagues saying that officers must not call protesters “cockroaches.”

Frontline officers have been filmed using the term to describe anti-extradition law protesters, after the Junior Police Officers’ Association twice included it in official letters about recent unrest.

Assistant Commander Simon Southgate confirmed to HKFP that he sent the email on Tuesday morning. He said he was comparatively new to the post and was committed to ensuring effective communication with staff on all matters relating to conduct and discipline.

Simon Southgate
Simon Southgate. Photo: Police.

“[I]t was a routine reminder of the importance of good conduct and discipline as part of Tsuen Wan Police District’s on-going commitment to delivering quality police services consistent with Force Values,” he said.

In the email obtained by HKFP, Southgate said there were members of the public who were unhappy with the force, and that they would seize every opportunity to make a complaint or discredit the force.

“Please – lets not give them any opportunities,” he wrote.

“No matter how violent or unlawful the protesters behaviour may be, it is not worth officers getting into trouble by using the term cockroach – in verbal communication, on the radio, or even social media. All you are doing to playing in to their hands. [sic] We must continue to show that we are better and more professional than they are,” he wrote.

Simon Southgate
Photo: Supplied.

The use of dehumanising language is historically controversial. During the tragic events of World War II through to the Rwandan genocide, targetted groups were described as inferior “cockroaches” or “rats.”

Formal complaints

Southgate also asked officers to refrain from using foul language or exhibiting a rude manner.

“There are members of the public who will verbally abuse officers and seek to deliberate[ly] provoke them so that the images can be posted on social media and used to discredit the Force. During this challenging and difficult time, officers must show their composure and high levels of EQ to make sure they do not give these members of the public what they want,” he wrote.

Southgate also asked officers to wear their uniform headgear, including uniform caps or police force baseball caps, when in public view.

“We know there are members of the public filming and taking photographs of our duties when they are out on patrol. We have already received one formal complaint with a supporting photograph showing officers in public not wearing their caps. These complaints can be easily avoided if duties wear their headgear,” he wrote.

Tsuen Wan china extradition august 25
Photo: May James/HKFP.

He said he was new to the district and was impressed with officers’ dedication and professionalism: “Please, lets keep it that way and ensure our front line duties continue to conduct themselves in a manner that we can all be proud of,” he wrote.

Asked if the police force would condemn behaviour by calling protesters “cockroaches,” police public relations branch senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said at a regular press conference on Wednesday that members of the public can lodge complaints if they felt uncomfortable hearing inappropriate remarks.

Since June, large-scale peaceful protests against the extradition law have escalated into – sometimes violent – displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy, alleged police brutality, surveillance and other community grievances. Demonstrators are demanding a complete withdrawal of the bill, a fully independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.