- The tide of violence has risen so high that peaceful protesters can no longer explain it away nor make common cause with it. Peaceful protesters have to strongly separate themselves from the violent ones or watch their cause go up in flames
Hong Kong's protesters legitimately worry that Beijing's repression of freedoms of speech and information might spread to Hong Kong. In expressing that concern, they have had a policy of solidarity with all elements of the protest movement, embodied in the pledge of "no splitting and no condemning".
On Thursday evening, a 70-year-old man who was hit on the head with a brick, during what was reported as a clash between anti-government protesters and residents in Sheung Shui, died of his wounds. Video recordings at the scene suggest he was merely taking pictures.
On Monday, a 57-year-old father of two daughters who was angry about the trashing of his neighbourhood was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire by protesters. He remains in critical condition with burns over 44 per cent of his body.
Meanwhile, protesters have been enraged by the death last week of a 22-year-old Hong Kong University of Science and Technology student, Chow Tsz-lok, who fell from the third to the second floor of a car park. The only known connection to police action was that police had fired tear gas 120 metres away.
Although the tragic incident could not be directly traced to police action, it has sparked vehement anti-police reactions from violent and non-violent protesters alike, while the incidents of the man hit on the head with a brick and the man deliberately set on fire have sparked little condemnation.
This is an egregious imbalance of responses from both violent and non-violent protesters, detracting from their cause.
Meanwhile protesters prepare and use more dangerous weapons, such as bows and flaming arrows and, worse, in their fight against police and the Hong Kong government.
It is no longer acceptable for peaceful protesters to make common cause with the violent ones, explaining away their violence by saying they were "forced to do it" because their demands were not met.
From protests to riots to lone wolf attacks. What next, Hong Kong?
John Lennon, an icon for freedom fighters everywhere commemorated in "Lennon Walls", said: "If you want peace, you won't get it with violence." And in the Beatles song Revolution, Lennon wrote: "But when you talk about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out."
If the objective of the protests is not, ultimately, peace with freedom, then what is the objective? If Lennon is to be sainted for his admiration of peace and non-violence, his words should be taken seriously.
The time when violence was useful in the protests, if there was one, has long since passed. It is now becoming damaging to the protesters' cause and to Hong Kong as a whole.
If peaceful, non-violent protesters want to further their objectives, they must now very strongly separate themselves from the violent ones. Doing so could prove a turning point in the protest movement.
This is a fight that can, in the long run, be won by non-violence. It is a fight that can be lost through violence. It is time for the protests to make a determined turn in the winning direction.
Michael Edesess is chief investment strategist of Compendium Finance, adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and a research associate of the Edhec-Risk Institute
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