26 November 2014

The rule of law in Hong Kong and Ferguson

Is everything relative? Americans may not have noticed the latest round of street violence in Hong Kong amid the chaos in Ferguson MO, but it wouldn't surprise me if many of those who've followed the Hong Kong story take a very different view of street violence depending on where it happens and who's doing it. For those who've joined late, Hong Kong dissidents have been carrying on "Occupy" style protests against the policy that allows the mainland Chinese government to vet candidates for the semi-autonomous island's upcoming election. The protesters fear that Beijing, which is to say the Communist Party, will approve only those candidates they deem correctly subservient to the mainland, if not to the Party. While many Hong Kong citizens complain, as many Americans did about the original Occupiers, that the protesters are obstructing traffic, commerce and the regular routines of hardworking people, for liberals around the world the only consideration is that this is a pro-democracy protest. If the local government, at the behest of Beijing or not, acts to suppress the Occupation, that will be proof to many observers that Hong Kong has succumbed to the "authoritarian" will of the mainland; it will be a blow against democracy and human rights. Many of those observers will reject any comparison with Ferguson. The Hong Kong protesters are not looting, they'll say. They're not rallying around an unworthy martyr. They stand for a higher principle, while Ferguson has shown nothing but simpleminded tribal rage. Yet the Ferguson protesters themselves seem very clear in their belief that injustice has been done to one of theirs, and the principles at the heart of the nonviolent protests -- and maybe of the violent ones also -- should be obvious. Police have too much license; they are given the benefit of the doubt in a way that inescapably casts blame on people who are still victims, because they are unarmed and dead, no matter what they may have done wrong.  Observers of Ferguson can agree that looting is wrong, but some Americans are so hostile toward any protest against the grand jury decision not to prosecute the cop who shot Michael Brown that the distinction between protest and riot gets lost. I get a sense that some Americans feel that no one has a right to protest the decision, or even the shooting of Brown. In this context, it should be possible to support the protesters in both Ferguson and Hong Kong in the name of a democracy that can never be fully constrained by the idea of rule of law. In this same context, here's news worth noting. Back in October, a video camera caught seven Hong Kong cops beating the crap out of a protester. Today, in an act that may have been timed exactly to suggest comparisons with other countries, the cops were arrested.

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