“A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven; hands have no tears to flow.” (Dylan Thomas)
Government buildings and police stations set ablaze, multinational businesses wrecked with bricks, enraged protesters on the streets being tear-gassed and shot at by police officers. Are these the symptoms of the 2020 pandemic? I’m not talking about the coronavirus. I am referring to the contagion of incompetent, unfeeling governments who are ordering the deaths of people fighting for basic rights.
We are only midway through 2020 yet it has felt like a lifetime. It’s been over a week since the tragic passing of George Floyd. Americans, especially its black community, throng the streets across the nation just as the people of Hong Kong did so not long ago. Ever since the Minneapolis protests began, politicians, the media and the international community have drawn parallels between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the Hong Kong protests.
Many are quick to dismiss both groups by pointing out the violent nature of the demonstrations, but they might have missed the fact that the savagery was instigated by law enforcement in both cases. A simple Google search will show you videos of police officers releasing tear gas onto peaceful crowds and pepper-spraying unarmed citizens, even journalists. As for the looting and destruction of property, any genuine protester would only target government buildings, police stations and racist or pro-Chinese multinational corporations. A handful of savage rioters and provocateurs burning small businesses to the ground are a different matter and do not represent the core principles of the #BlackLivesMatter movement or the Hong Kong protests.
We do not live in a vacuum. Context matters and our actions are responses to our circumstances and influenced by external factors.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “A riot is the language of the unheard”. All of this bloodshed, violence, polarisation and destruction could have been prevented if the people in power had simply listened. Governments are formed to serve their peoples, to listen to their needs and to better their livelihoods by taking action, not to suppress their voices, dismiss their needs or kill their dissidents.
More articles on the protests in Hong Kong and America:
- New Chinese security law signals possible end to freedom of expression in Hong Kong
- Dealing with a racist USA
- George Floyd: one week on
- Stop gaslighting the US protesters
- PM’s offer to three million Hong Kong people will test Brexiters’ resolve
If Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam had responded to the five demands of protesters without delay, or if President Trump had promulgated the idea of police reform and prosecuted officers who had abused their power, there may not even have been civil disobedience in Hong Kong or the USA. Governments should stop cowering behind their armed forces, cease the hostility between their peoples and pay heed to the demands and struggles of their citizenry.
From our moral high ground and the comfort of our own homes or political indifference, who are we to judge the people who are bleeding and risking their very lives and futures? People who are oppressed by systemic racism or threatened by an authoritarian, tyrannical state. Choosing not to demonstrate in a certain way is one thing; lecturing what the unheard should or should not do is entirely different and unacceptable. Consider who’s being arrested, being held accountable for their actions, and being attacked and killed by lethal weapons. Consider who’s holding undeniably greater power over the other. The umbrella-holding, mask-wearing protesters? Or the weaponised, gas-mask-wearing, geared-up and warrant-number-obscuring police forces?
The simultaneously analogous yet polarised representation of both protests in the media on the news and on social media varies depending on political agenda and country. The images used and headlines phrased by the New York Times for Hong Kong and for black Americans respectively, stand in stark contrast with one another.
The two groups of people are both fighting against obstinate regimes and for righteous causes in ways that might be questionable to the public. But one is portrayed to be victims defending themselves against a totalitarian power while the other is condemned as simply rioters that should be shut down by force. The propaganda of the Beijing broadcasts to the Chinese people and Trump’s tweets to the American people are no different.
When President Trump diminishes American protesters as “thugs” and threatens that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, rather than focusing on the justified demands of #BlackLivesMatter, this does not help America’s case when the Chinese media criticises the nation for its double standards. After all, Trump sided with the Hong Kong protesters by threatening to impose economic sanctions on China if Beijing insists on imposing the National Security Law in Hong Kong.
While the US freely gifts China its propaganda of the week, the Chinese media and government officials are no less hypocritical. The Global Times, a state-owned Chinese newspaper, continues its anti-Hong-Kong and anti-America propaganda by painting the protests as funded riots organised by foreign powers. While its editor-in-chief Hu Xijin pleads for black Americans and urges the US Congress to speak out “I can’t breathe” – words spoken by the deceased George Floyd during his last moments of being suffocated by Derek Chauvin.
Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department in China, Hua Chunying, has also picked up “I can’t breathe” – now used as a slogan by protesting black Americans – to respond to criticism of China and call out the US for their hypocrisy.
Using the last words of a black man suffering from police brutality is rich coming from key opinion leaders and politicians who work for the Communist Party of China, which has repeatedly proven their disregard for human rights. Imprisoning Uyghurs in concentration camps for simply being Muslim. Singing the praises of the Hong Kong Police Force for using excessive force on peaceful protesters, journalists and legislators, having ruthlessly killed students calling for multi-party democracy in the Tiananmen Square and censoring whoever speaks up about it. Marginalising and penalising black people in China, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. The list goes on.
Actively advocating for non-Americans’ rights of freedom and democracy while demonising one’s own people who are requesting reasonable reform is both two-faced and disrespectful. So too is exploiting a black man’s last words to further one’s own agenda and to put on a pretence at upholding human rights while doing the opposite. This simply demonstrates that neither leader genuinely cares about the fight for rights or democracy, only their propaganda and political agenda.
Both protests have been playing out in an ominously similar narrative. People protest peacefully on the streets, while the police exert unnecessary force on citizens and journalists and the protests turn violent and destructive. The press and governments from different corners of the world take their own stance on the movement, but the corresponding government only condemns its people and does nothing to address the problems. The fact that all this injustice has been wrought upon our 21st century society, in which everyone should be entitled to basic rights and freedoms, is heartbreaking.
So what can you do other than signing petitions, donating money, joining marches and voicing support? Honestly, not much; we are tiny citizens speaking out against foreign power structures. But what you should not do is participate in something as stupid as the “authoritarianism Olympics” or the “oppression Olympics”. It is horrible that leaderships are condoning the violation of human rights. But showing favouritism towards one movement because “they have it worse” or “this government is more oppressive” will only create more divide between two communities. Support both and fight for both. What the world needs most right now is solidarity and concerted effort in the crusade for rights, freedoms and democracy.
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