By Sebastian Skov Andersen and Joyce Leung
When the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) announced on Twitter that a middle-aged sergeant had tested positive for covid-19 a few weeks back, the most popular reply read: “The more, the merrier.”
The second-most liked response came from an anonymous Hongkonger who wrote “30,000 thx” accompanied by a prayer emoji — a reference to the 30,000 officers in the HKPF.
The coronavirus pandemic put the pro-democracy movement’s protests mostly in hibernation, and the outbreak has – up until now – been an altogether unwelcome guest in the city. But when contagion struck the police force, a mortal enemy of the movement, protesters cheered it on.
Some Hongkongers have raised ethical concerns with the trend, but they are a quiet voice. Most activists simply shrugged it off with “they had it coming,” or started popping celebratory bottles.
One winery, Levin Wine Ltd, posted a discount offer on champagne on Facebook to celebrate the occasion.
Glory Café – a restaurant well-known for its open pro-democracy stance – even launched a new dish in honour of the virus after it had infected the first officer. Its name “三萬完蛋飯,” or ‘saam man yun dan fan’, translates to both “barbecued eel and eggs on rice” and “the end for all 30,000 police officers.”
One protester named Yom, an 18-year-old student, told HKFP he was thrilled to see the coronavirus take hold of the Hong Kong Police Force. He has shared memes on social media and gloated over them in the company of his friends, with the wellbeing of the officer being of very little concern.
“What you have to understand is how serious we are about wanting all police officers to die,” he said. He sent a meme showing a man becoming more and more excited as he learned that an officer was sick, that his family had caught it, too, and lastly, that he had infected his battalion as well.
“There are 30,000 officers in Hong Kong,” he said. “We want them all dead, and their families, too.”
The celebrations come in the wake of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call for the world to “quarantine politicising covid,” as they gloomily warned about using the coronavirus as a political pawn because it would inevitably lead to body bags piling up.
Weakening their defences
If the HKPF is weakened by the outbreak in any way, it is a victory for the protesters. After one officer from a regional anti-riot elite squad was confirmed positive in April, the government ordered 130 of its members – almost the entire unit – into quarantine.
Although the vacuum was soon filled by officers from other regional squads, the incident exposed a vulnerability in Hong Kong’s police department: it cannot effectively practise distancing when on duty.
The police can often seem like an unconquerable mastodon to protesters, who are undergeared and underfunded in comparison, so the virus poses a welcome challenge to the authorities’ defences.
Jerry, a 22-year-old frontline protester who works in the arts and culture industry, said he was glad to see the virus take hold of the police. If more officers catch it, it could open the door for rioting at police stations, he said.
But it is unlikely that the future holds a larger outbreak in the police department, as the city has largely managed to contain the outbreak at the time of writing.
“If a third or two-thirds of the police force is in quarantine, that would create a chance for the protesters to fight back. There’d be fewer police officers to catch us and beat us up, so people could take to the streets and attack government buildings or even police quarters,” he said.
Many believe that you should not wish harm even on your worst enemy, but protesters do not consider the protests to be simple political uprisings. They are on the frontlines of an ideological war, and many would sooner die than have their freedoms and identity swallowed by the goliath that is the Chinese regime.
So when they celebrate over the spread of contagion in the HKPF, it is because they see the officers as traitors who have chosen to fight side-by-side with the oppressor. They deserve nothing less, the sentiment goes.
The HKPF did not wish to comment on the matter.
And according to Jerry, the ‘well wishes’ should be seen in the light of a larger context, where a biased justice system and an impression of powerlessness leave protesters with little hope.
“We have no legitimate or effective way of seeking justice in Hong Kong, no way of getting our outrage or hatred out. The virus is our last resort to find any kind of fairness, any kind of revenge,” he said.
“The virus doesn’t discriminate and it doesn’t care whether you support the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]. It will just infect anyone, so this is our reaction.”
But not everyone agrees that the outbreak in the HKPF will be beneficial to the protest movement in the long run. Leon Au, a 22-year-old protester, told HKFP he was worried the CCP would send Chinese soldiers to take their place if the virus weakened Hong Kong’s own police too much.
If officers from Hong Kong do not like the pro-democracy movement, that animosity is only even more intense among mainland Chinese officers, he said. Many protesters already speculate that there are Chinese-sent officers among the Hongkongers, particularly after an incident where Chinese soldiers helped clear roadblocks after a rally.
In March, Reuters reported that China’s internal security forces had been present on the frontlines.
“When the protests start again, we might have to face the mainland’s police force,” he said. “That’d be a lot worse and it could happen so easily. It’s like when the West stopped supplying tear gas to the police in Hong Kong so they switched to gas made in China. That stuff is way more harmful than the European ones.”
He also noted that, while many chant death wishes at the families of officers, the reality of it is not that black and white. Sure, if a spouse supports the CCP, they too deserve death. Children, on the other hand, can be forgiven if they come out against the government in spite of their parents, or at least don’t openly support them.
In one video that went viral in Hong Kong, an assumedly suicidal young man with a chainsaw is seen crying, begging for forgiveness at the hands of a half-dozen protesters. “I’m a puppy,” he laments, a term Hongkongers use to describe children of police, who they call dogs.
The protesters, covering him under a shield of umbrellas, tell him he is on their side, not his parents’. “It doesn’t fucking matter, all police and their families should die,” the man continues.
“No, it’s not like that, you’re a frontliner! It’s okay, you’re on our side,” the protesters reply to comfort him. “You know you have a good heart? We are together, don’t be scared. You cannot die, you understand me?”
Some protesters – half-jokingly, half-seriously – juggle the idea of intentionally spreading the coronavirus in police circles, effectively deploying it as a weapon. Some urge one another to cough on officers at rallies, whether sick or not, to scare them off getting physical or arresting protesters.
Jerry laughed as he told HKFP about a master plan common among protesters: “The first place I will go if I catch the virus is the police station. Hopefully, I can infect some of them.”
One 79-year-old man rose to the status of a living legend in the protest movement after he broke out of his isolation pod while waiting for an x-ray at a hospital, then walked with his daughter to a police station close by.
Afterwards he returned to the hospital for treatment. Although the motive of the unnamed perpetrator is unknown, protesters hail him as a hero.
But according to Au, the protester, it is irresponsible to intentionally bring the virus to the streets intentionally because the officers are prepared for the strategy. It’s going to affect all the wrong people, he said.
“The police are very well-equipped with protective gear, whereas normal people in the streets are probably more vulnerable,” he said. “I don’t think he is going to have much more effect other than getting people sick.”