Hong Kong’s unprecedented protests & police crackdown, explained September 29, 2014
Protest marches and vigils are fairly common in Hong Kong, but what began on Friday and escalated dramatically on Sunday is unprecedented. Mass acts of civil disobedience were met by a shocking and swift police response, which has led to clashes in the streets and popular outrage so great that analysts can only guess at what will happen next.
What’s going on in Hong Kong right now is a very big deal, and for reasons that go way beyond just this weekend’s protests. Hong Kong’s citizens are protesting to keep their promised democratic rights, which they worry — with good reason — could be taken away by the central Chinese government in Beijing. This moment is a sort of standoff between Hong Kong and China over the city’s future, a confrontation that they have been building toward for almost 20 years.
On Wednesday, student groups led peaceful marches to protest China’s new plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 election, which looked like China reneging on its promise to grant the autonomous region full democracy (see the next section for what that plan was such a big deal). Protest marches are pretty common in Hong Kong so it didn’t seem so unusual at first.
Things started escalating on Friday. Members of a protest group called Occupy Central (Central is the name of Hong Kong’s downtown district) had planned to launch a “civil disobedience” campaign on October 1, a national holiday celebrating communist China’s founding. But as the already-ongoing protesters escalated they decided to go for it now. On Friday, protesters peacefully occupied the forecourt (a courtyard-style open area in front of an office building) of Hong Kong’s city government headquarters along with other downtown areas.
The really important thing is what happened next: Hong Kong’s police cracked down with surprising force, fighting in the streets with protesters and eventually emerging with guns that, while likely filled with rubber bullets, look awfully militaristic. In response, outraged Hong Kong residents flooded into the streets to join the protesters, and on Sunday police blanketed Central with tear gas, which has been seen as a shocking and outrageous escalation. The Chinese central government issued a statement endorsing the police actions, as did Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, a tacit signal that Beijing wishes for the protests to be cleared.
You have to remember that this is Hong Kong: an affluent and orderly place that prides itself on its civility and its freedom. Hong Kongers have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to China, and see themselves as beyond the mainland’s authoritarianism and disorder. But there is also deep, deep anxiety that this could change, that Hong Kong could lose its special status, and this week’s events have hit on those anxieties to their core.
This began in 1997, when the United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong, one of its last imperial possessions, to the Chinese government. Hong Kong had spent over 150 years under British rule; it had become a fabulously wealthy center of commerce and had enjoyed, while not full democracy, far more freedom and democracy than the rest of China. So, as part of the handover, the Chinese government in Beijing promised to let Hong Kong keep its special rights and its autonomy — a deal known as “one country, two systems.”
A big part of that deal was China’s promise that, in 2017, Hong Kong’s citizens would be allowed to democratically elect their top leader for the first time ever. That leader, known as the Hong Kong chief executive, is currently appointed by a pro-Beijing committee. In 2007, the Chinese government reaffirmed its promise to give Hong Kong this right in 2017, which in Hong Kong is referred to as universal suffrage — a sign of how much value people assign to it.
But there have been disturbing signs throughout this year that the central Chinese government might renege on its promise. In July, the Chinese government issued a “white paper” stating that it has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and that “the high degree of autonomy of [Hong Kong] is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership.” It sounded to many like a warning from Beijing that it could dilute or outright revoke Hong Kong’s freedoms, and tens of thousands of Hong Kong’s citizens marched in protest.
Then, in August, Beijing announced its plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 elections. While citizens would be allowed to vote for the chief executive, the candidates for the election would have to be approved by a special committee just like the pro-Beijing committee that currently appoints the chief executive. This lets Beijing hand-pick candidates for the job, which is anti-democratic in itself, but also feels to many in Hong Kong like a first step toward eroding their promised democratic rights.
McMillan, who was earlier this month released from Rikers Island – one of the country’s most notoriously violent jails – explained that although she was free, she no longer felt safe in New York “because I was sexually assaulted and then put in jail for it,” according to the Voice. McMillan has alleged from the start that the officer involved in her assault case forcibly grabbed her breast from behind during the protest; after elbowing him, she was promptly arrested and put in jail.
The interactions resulted in a blatantly sexist portrayal of McMillan sprinkled with mocking details about her fashion choices – all of which fail to mention that she was asked such questions by the press.
McMillan has been using her newfound freedom to speak out against the treatment of inmates at Rikers – a cause that is essentially being buried for more important notes on her outfit choices. Well done, New York media!
The Turkish Uprising: What’s happening in Turkey right now March 14, 2014
A fresh new wave of protests is rocking Turkey, as tens of thousands march on the streets to demonstrate against the government. But unlike what’s going on in Ukraine and Venezuela, the protests in Turkey mark a second, renewed round of protests that began last summer.
Protests began with the death of a teenager named Berkin Elvan, who was in a nine-month coma after being injured during last year’s government rallies. Thousands attended his funeral in Istanbul and marched in the streets afterwards.
Tens of thousands are also protesting across Turkey, especially in big cities such as Ankara and Izmir.
The government’s response has been to send riot police to clash with the protesters. The tactics have mostly been restricted to tear gas, water cannons and beatings. It seems that police may have forgotten that’s how Elvan died — he suffered a head injury when he was hit in the head with a tear gas canister. He was passing by the protests to go buy bread for his family.
On Wednesday, a protester died from a head injury while a police officer also passed away from a heart attack.
“The staff of Fortune and a panel of experts recently assembled our 2016 list of the World’s Greatest Leaders. Here’s a short profile of three of them.
Modern social movements often fizzle after their moment in the national news (Occupy Wall Street and to a lesser extent the Tea Party come to mind). But Black Lives Matter has steadily gained momentum since its founding in 2013, when activist Alicia Garza coined the phrase and fellow activist Patrisse Cullors made it a hashtag. Alongside Opal Tometi, they created the Black Lives Matter network, which has grown to 28 local chapters, each fighting a range of racial injustices like police brutality and racial profiling. Last year the movement inspired college students to take up the mantel, with some successes (the system president and chancellor of the University of Missouri resigned over outcry they failed to address campus racism). They also pushed the presidential candidates to address the country’s systemic racism – an issue would-be nominees would probably have preferred to sidestep.”
A 23-year-old Occupy Wall Street activist, Cecily McMillan, whose encounter with police left her bleeding and hospitalized for several days now faces assault charges which could lock her away for seven years. The charges stem from her accidental, reflexive elbowing of an officer in the eye as he touched her (reportedly on her breast) from behind. (And even if it weren’t accidental, seven years for elbowing? Really?)
McMillan’s attorney, Martin Stolar, told the Guardian that while there was “no question” the officer was struck below the eye by McMillan’s elbow, he planned to argue that no crime had been committed.
“The question for the jury is whether she intentionally assaulted him,” Stolar said. “We’re going to present evidence that indicates: No1 that she had no idea it was a police officer behind her and No2 that she reacted when someone grabbed her right breast.”
Stolar said it was being grabbed from behind that prompted McMillan to throw the elbow.
McMillan herself commented after the incident, “My body is bruised from head to toe, and I’ve been in and out of three hospitals, two clinics…I was going to make a statement about my condition, but also about my innocence of the charges being brought against me. I expect to be fully vindicated, despite other accusations. And I also was going to reiterate publicly my long-standing commitment to nonviolence…”
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday, some of them jeering National Day celebrations, and students threatened to ramp up demonstrations if the city’s pro-Beijing leader did not step down.