No, they’re not Hitler’s Gestapo, the former Soviet Union’s KGB or the murderous Tonton Macoute that kept Haiti’s notoriously corrupt Duvalier clan in power for nearly 30 years.

Hong Kong still has a long way to go in its constabulary Shop of Horrors before we look to the examples of Papa Doc and Baby Doc as points of reference.

That said, however, heading into a new year on the heels of a massive January 1 anti-government protest that quickly descended into a violent free-for-all resulting in more than 400 arrests, one thing is disturbingly clear: the Hong Kong Police Force has largely stopped policing in favour of paramilitary enforcement.

june 21 china extradition protest
File photo: Todd Darling.

As nearly seven months of fury and upheaval spill into 2020, the tone and tenor of police rhetoric and conduct has become increasingly nasty and foreboding while the tactics employed by police officers, especially the anti-riot “raptors,” have gone from passive to aggressive to downright brutal and hateful.

Worse still, this heightened police animus toward demonstrators often seems randomly expressed: pepper spray and tear gas are employed against peaceful and violent protesters alike, not to mention innocent bystanders and reporters assigned to cover the most severe social and political crisis this city has faced in 22 years.

Let’s not forget the Indonesian reporter who lost an eye after allegedly being struck by a rubber bullet fired by police. Her plight has become one of the many symbols firing the ongoing turmoil.

And, of course, the damningly slow police response to the July 21 Yuen Long MTR attack on protesters and other passengers by more than 100 white-clad men armed with steel rods and bamboo sticks—and the failure to bring to justice most of those involved—continues to add oil to a movement that identifies the police as Public Enemy No. 1.

The subsequent police shootings of three young protesters—all of whom, thankfully, survived—further damaged the force’s reputation, with survey after survey revealing a Hong Kong public that overwhelmingly believes police have used excessive force in their failed quest to return order to the city.

police graffiti january 1 central (6) (Copy)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

In one recent poll, commissioned by the South China Morning Post, nearly 20 per cent of the respondents even supported violent protest tactics such as hurling bricks and petrol bombs at the police and trashing public facilities such as toll booths and MTR stations.

“Disband the police force”—along with “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “Five demands, not one less”—is now one of the most popular slogans chanted during anti-government marches and rallies.

The blind eye many members of the public turn to protest violence is no doubt fuelled by the fact that their daily Twitter and Facebook feeds are likely to feature video clips of cops mounting reckless blitzkriegs into shopping malls occupied by protesters, many of whom are peaceful, and additional footage of angry, unhinged officers laying into unarmed demonstrators with their batons while police spokesmen offer bizarre explanations for the force’s indefensible behaviour.

January 1 police
Photo: May James/HKFP.

Witness, for example, the painfully belaboured explanation of the commonly used police slur against protesters as “cockroaches” by Chief Inspector Tam Yu-hei. He claimed the epithet was actually a term of endearment chosen to describe the “vitality” of those taking part in the movement, as well as their ability to “survive in times of difficulty.”

And the chairman of the Junior Police Officers’Association Lam Chi-wai certainly didn’t do his members any public-relations favours when he recently stated that peaceful protesters were just as guilty as their violent counterparts for bringing chaos and mayhem to the streets Hong Kong.

Indeed, police PR efforts appeared to enter some strange and terrible parallel universe last week when senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung, spokesman for the force, blamed protesters for “provoking” the vicious, indiscriminate July 21 attack in Yuen Long.

Kong’s remarks were a clear echo of allegations that had been made previously by controversial pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Kwan-yiu Ho, whom many suspect actively encouraged the triad-style Yuen Long assault.

While evidence of police misconduct swells, all we hear is praise from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor —in addition to the news that officers have received nearly HK$1.2 billion in overtime and special allowances during the city’s prolonged period of unrest.

carrie lam january 1 civil front causeway bay
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Not a single officer has been disciplined for poor judgement or excessive use of force over the course of the protests.

Not the officer who deliberately steered his motorcycle into a group of protesters in November. He’s still on duty.

Not the officer who last month effectively doxxed a Stand News reporter when he made a conspicuous display of the reporter’s HKID to a live-streaming camera. He, too, is still on the job.

And not the many “raptors” who feel free to abuse their power and authority repeatedly because they are not wearing any visible form of identification. They continue to act with impunity.

As 2020 begins with the same madness and ill will with which 2019 ended, Hong Kong’s current state of affairs is simply not tenable.

Our city has been handed over to an angry, overstretched police force given carte blanche by a despised and unresponsive puppet government with no other means of support.

armoured van truck police Jimmy Lam Tsim sha Tsui police 18 November (3)
Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Meanwhile, the bricks and bombs continue to fly, and Hong Kong continues to break and burn.

A once-great city has been brought to its knees, but our local leaders are powerless to act and their masters in Beijing seem intent on punishing us with indifference.

Kent Ewing is a teacher and writer who has lived in Hong Kong for more than two decades. He has written for the South China Morning Post, The Standard, Asia Times and Asia Sentinel. Allegations to the contrary, he insists he is not a colonial fossil. Follow him on Twitter.