The Senate, by a voice vote with no opposition yesterday passed a bill condemning the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong police for their brutal treatment of students in the supposedly autonomous Chinese city protesting threats to Hong Kong’s freedoms and it’s promise from China of self rule until 2047. The bill, if signed into law, would assess trade and other penalties on Hong Kong for its treatment of Hong Kong protesters.
Now while I have no problem condemning police brutality in Hong Kong, which has included massive and indiscriminate use of tear gas, rubber bullets, beatings and even deaths, including from live gunfire, I must at the same time point out that police brutality in the US against peaceful protesters, which I have always condemned, has historically been much more violent and violative of the US Constitution’s supposed guarantee of freedom of speech and assembly than what we’ve seen from the cops in Hong Kong.
I also have to point out that Hong Kong demonstrators have for some time now been responding (understandably) to the police violence against them with violence of their own, including widespread use of firebombs made from water bottles filled with petrol, and archery attacks with potentially deadly arrows as well as fire-tipped arrows, and with the use of powerful slingshots launching heavy and hard projectiles.
If such aggressive actions were adopted by US protesters, I can state with no hesitation that US police would quickly turn to the AR-15 combat weapons they all carry in their squad cars and vans and fatalities would be a guaranteed result. (Hong Kong police are being instructed not to shoot to kill if they use their weapons, while US police, almost universally, are instructed to do just the opposite: not just to shoot to kill if using a gun, but to empty their weapon into the “target” (that’s why victims of police shootings don’t usually get hit by one bullet, but by a number of them).
Looking at the mayhem in Hong Kong, as terrible and chaotic as it has been in recent weeks, there has been only one direct death attributable to the police, plus one accidental death and several apparent suicides. In the US cops kill people almost daily, and protester deaths, including peaceful protesters, are not uncommon at the hands of police.
Again, I am in no way excusing Hong Kong’s government or its police force for their brutal treatment of student protesters. That things have become so violent in Hong Kong is a direct consequence of the hard line taken by the Beijing-puppet Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her police leaders, who from the outset met peaceful protests in the city over undermining of the city’s freedoms with harsh resistance, an approach which predictably led to an increasingly militant response from passionate students in a cycle that has reached the level now, almost, of a civil war in the streets.
That doesn’t happen easily in the US because the police response here is so much harsher right from the get-go, and because protesters know from the outset that this will be the case, and that resistance could even be fatal.
Where were these hypocritical US Senators now seeming to be so concerned with protest rights in Hong Kong in 2016 when completely peaceful Sioux Nation “water protectors” massed at Standing Rock — supported by other Native American nations, by representatives of the world’s indigenous peoples, and by other American supporters of all races, including many US military veterans — to oppose the construction of an oil pipeline through tribal lands? For trying to protect the Missouri River, a critical water source for their reservation, from predictable oil spills, these peaceful activists had the full weight of the white racist North Dakota government and the Obama government brought down upon them as North Dakota State Police and National Guard, local cops and volunteer police from across the country as well as hired goons from the oil companies assaulted them in the freezing cold fall and winter with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Arrests were brutal, and jail sentences long. As far as I can tell, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and now a leading candidate for president in the Democratic nomination contest, and two others are the only Senator who spoke up for the protesters under assault at Standing Rock.
Though the Standing Rock protest was completely peaceful and a totally justified defense against only the latest example of two centuries of US violation of its treaties with the country’s indigenous people, there was no US Senate (or House) resolution condemning the ugly violence against the protesters. Very little sympathetic coverage in the corporate US media either, for that matter, the way there is of the Hong Kong protests half a world away.
Or look at Fergusson, Missouri. When the city’s largely black population rose up in anger to protest the police murder of an unarmed young man, Michael Brown, in 2014, the Missouri government response was to send in an army of riot police in military gear, armed with assault rifles and riding in military armored vehicles. Six people were killed or died in that city because of that police assault and occupation.
Where too, were these “noble-minded” Senate defenders of the right to protest and free expression and assembly when, in late 2011, the Obama administration orchestrated a coordinated attack by local police across the country on peaceful and unarmed Occupy Movement protesters in cities from L.A., Oakland and Portland, to Houston, Chicago, Miami, Boston and New York’s Wall Street. That wave of assaults, which featured the use of teargas, pepper spray, truncheons, clubs, sometimes rubber bullets and “bean bag” guns, and tasers, followed instructions that they be conducted at night away from media coverage, and be “as violent as possible,” the intent being to deter protesters from returning later.
The reality is that violence is the default response by US police to protest, and that deaths from police responses to protests and protest riots or uprisings in the US are, in fact, common.
Of course the most famous example of this are the murders in 1970 of four young college students on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio and of two young black students at Jackson State College in Mississippi. At Kent State on May 4, National Guardsmen, armed with loaded rifles, were ordered onto the campus by the state’s Republican governor (apparently at the urging of President Nixon), during a peaceful protest there over Nixon’s surprise invasion of Cambodia. Two weeks later on May 15, two black students were killed and 12 injured by gunfire from municipal and state police on the Jackson State College campus during a protest there.
The Senate bill on Hong Kong is a joke, a posturing by the Millionaire’s Club on Capitol Hill aimed at pleasing both neo-liberal interventionists and conservative nationalist Yahoos. This bunch of thugs in the Senate clearly really see nothing wrong with cops clubbing, spying on and even gunning down peaceful protesters. If they did, they’d have long ago ended the Patriot Act, the 2001 and 2003 Authorizations for Use of Military Force, and the program for handing over surplus military equipment to state and local police forces.
I salute the Hong Kong students for their passion and courage in demanding democratic rights and freedoms in their city. But I condemn the US Congress — Democrats and Republicans — for their continuing feckless support for an increasingly dangerous police state developing in the US, and for their hypocritical criticism and sanctioning of similar police-state tactics in certain other nations.