The murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, has sparked nationwide US protests against racism and police brutality. Hong Kong protesters hold varying opinions on these protests. Some consider them riots, others call for solidarity between the two movements. As a Minnesotan and student of HKUST, I will aim to compare the two movements and give better context to a complicated situation.
- Police Brutality: Fighting police brutality has been central to both the Hong Kong protests and the US protests. In both movements, police have responded with disproportionate force and poor discipline. Like in Hong Kong, the US police have arrested and attacked the press, fired “non-lethal weapons” indiscriminately, and used vehicles offensively.
- Decentralization: Both movements have organized and rallied in a decentralized manner, making it harder for police to predict and counter protest actions. This has led to some vandalism and looting that is not associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Predominantly Peaceful: Protests in the United States, like in Hong Kong, have been predominantly peaceful. The press often fixates on riots and looting, but both movements consist mainly of large marches and rallies.
- US Protests Are Fractured: Rather than have a set of collective demands, methodology, and discipline like in Hong Kong, the US protests consist of various groups with different agendas. Some groups in the US blame racism and police brutality on capitalism, and justify looting and rioting as a rebellion against capitalism. Others, mainly teenagers from wealthier neighborhoods, are driven by individual motivations to get excitement from participating in war games against the state. The majority of protesters, however, are fighting against police brutality and racism in some form. These protesters are gaining discipline and organization. With these improvements, they are limiting untargeted vandalism and looting that has damaged the image of the movement.
- Organization: Given the emotional start of the Minneapolis and US protests, there was virtually no organization of the protest movement. In Minneapolis, there were no major organizers like the Civil Human Rights Front in Hong Kong and protesters did not have Telegram groups to organize logistics and tactics. This led to many individuals taking advantage of the chaos for their own personal gain in looting and vandalizing indiscriminately. Recently, US-protesters have been getting more organized. This will likely lead to more discipline among protesters and overall effectiveness.
- Accountability: Accountability among protesters has been a key driver of Hong Kong protesters’ discipline in refraining from looting and indiscriminate vandalism. Hong Kongers thought carefully of who was going to be affected by their actions when protesting and held each other accountable to not vandalize yellow shops or hurt innocent people. In the US protests, there is built up anger from centuries of racial oppression and economic inequality. There is an attitude that if actions hurt “the system” that is will help the cause of racial injustice. Therefore, individuals went unchecked by other protesters when they looted and vandalized minority businesses and schools because they were viewed as part of “the system”. However, recently protesters have begun checking outside elements that have been vandalizing and looting for their personal gain and ideology. This is an important step to maintain momentum and popular support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hong Kongers should not condemn the Black Lives Matter movement. Often, those that vandalize or loot have nothing to do with the movement. As protest tactics and practices evolve in the US, they will begin to resemble those of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is at a pivotal moment in its history. To maintain US support, Hong Kong’s democracy movement cannot allow itself to be branded a partisan, “right-wing” movement. Standing against police brutality globally, like Hong Kongers did with “we connect” with Catalonia and Chile, is in the right thing to do and best for the Hong Kong democracy movement. Police brutality and state-sponsored suppression of freedoms is a global struggle against abuse of power and authoritarianism. Hong Kong is on the right side of history in this fight and must stand with those fighting for their liberties around the world.