His victim was a seemingly random police officer – and for some in Hong Kong, this not only justified the violence, but it was also a cause for commemoration.
Over the past week, a constant streak of visitors has transformed July 1 memorial crime scene. Families brought their young children to mourn the knife, which fatally turned its weapon on him shortly after the attack. The student union at the prestigious Hong Kong University passed a motion saying they “appreciate his sacrifice.” And the man’s employer, beverage company Vitasoy, saw its stock drop 14.6%, its biggest drop since going public in 1994, after offering condolences to the attacker’s family. in a leaked internal memo. Online, some have called him a hero.
The authorities responded to the memorials with fury. Carrie Lam, the city’s leader who was elected by only a few hundred people, urged the public to avoid inciting further “immoral acts”. Police guarded the stabbing site for several days, removing flowers from the makeshift memorial, and called the attack “terrorism”, fueling authorities’ narrative that civil society is now threatened by random acts political violence.
The July 1 attack revealed that while protests and political opposition have been dulled, the anger that rocked Hong Kong in 2019 persists in the anti-government camp – raising fears of further violence.
A muted holiday
The attack was particularly shocking for two reasons: both the choice of victim and the choice of the day.
The victim was one of dozens of police stationed near a cordoned-off street corner, which had been the starting point of previous mass pro-democracy marches, when her attacker took an item from his bag and l ‘dove into him.
The policeman was rushed to hospital in critical condition.
Prior to the National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities granted licenses for the July 1 marches, a symbol of Hong Kong’s relatively high level of freedom compared to mainland China.
That changed after 2019. For months that year pro-democracy protests paralyzed parts of Hong Kong, sometimes leading to violent clashes between protesters and police. Many protesters saw the police response as brutal, fueling public distrust of the officers the democracy movement viewed as government agents.
And as the movement moved towards something more dangerous, Beijing’s tolerance for the protests in Hong Kong has run out.
With lines of peaceful protest blocked, thousands of people left the city, migrating to Western democracies providing safe haven, while hundreds became political refugees. For those who remain in Hong Kong, there are few legal ways to be heard.
The July 1 attack showed that while dissent had been silenced, it had not disappeared, said Joseph Cheng, a prominent political commentator from Hong Kong who now lives in New Zealand. “The anger is obviously there,” he added.
One mourner, an education worker in her 20s, said she believed the perpetrator had “reached a point of desperation” after the 2019 protests.
“I wanted to be part of his remembrance to show that he was not alone,” she said. “There is no space for political expression. We have no outlet. We cannot take to the streets, we cannot sing songs with political implications because it is illegal. “
A “twisted pursuit of freedom”
The stabbing of July 1 also represents another difficult reality: how the once-revered Hong Kong police force has become a public enemy for some.
Hong Kong police declined to comment for this story, but a 10-year force veteran who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the press said he was shocked and saddened by the attack.
The officer said it was a “twisted pursuit of freedom” inspired by “fake news,” including unsubstantiated allegations that police killed several protesters.
“In my job, I have to monitor social media activity. The number of fake accounts that occupy my main feed is overwhelming,” he said. “Whatever your values and however noble they are, there can be no tolerance for violence and extremist tactics.”
Mourners, he said, are “naive”. “Showing empathy towards the attacker is wrong,” he said. “How can you teach the next generation that this behavior is okay? “
A former senior police official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the police “must be careful”.
“The man who committed suicide is a killer. Why do you see him as a hero? the 30-plus-year-old police veteran asked those who laid the flowers.
Fears for the future
In a polarized climate, some are skeptical of the reality of the terrorist threat. For many, the separation of powers between police and government is becoming blurred – the new security secretary, for example, was the former police commissioner.
Others believe there might be legitimate reasons to fear that copier attacks could ignite tensions that turn into a greater threat.
A user of LIHKG, a popular Reddit-style forum used by protesters in 2019, claimed to be planning a similar attack on a police officer. The more than 30-year-old police veteran said he was worried about copier attacks, especially if members of the public continued to offer what he called “prayers for a killer.”
The diminishing legal means of expressing dissent meant that it was possible that the lone wolves could resort to more extreme actions, said political expert Cheng. “You are leading a very, very small group of radicals to extreme action,” he said, calling on Lam to restore and restore people’s confidence in the police force.
“Any sane government must recognize this buildup of anger and must try to reduce anger instead of just condemning acts of violence,” he said.
In the meantime, the police, who do not make the law but must enforce it, are at the forefront of the public’s anger.
The psychology professor said the Hong Kong authorities have become an “easy target on which people can project all their frustration and disappointment, political or otherwise.”
“Hong Kong people still haven’t had the chance to collectively process or resolve what they went through (in 2019),” he said. “Covid-19 has served as a substantial distraction, and perhaps very effective, but ultimately a real healing has to take place. “
How to Get Help: In Hong Kong, call +852 2896 0000 for Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for suicide prevention services. In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact details for crisis centers around the world.