Opening gambits, police mistakes

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The police made 4 fatal errors at the beginning of OC. In the past, some would have been smart moves. But this time was different.

The police were a mistake machine for a couple of days at the opening of events, leading us to here. The Big Ones were:
1) Holding the student leaders for so long (48 hours). Once Joshua Wong got in front of a judge, he was promptly released and the judge was not impressed. This angered many students and even parents who decided to join the protests on this account.

2) Stopping the flow of people into the Occupied Zone on Sunday. Effective at past events, it proved unpredictably disastrous and decisive on this occasion. The call for more people to come was heeded in spades on a Sunday afternoon, normally a downtime for students. Pressure built as people massed outside, taunting police until they finally spilled over onto Harcourt Road. This began the real occupation, taking the OC and student leaders by surprise. If the police had let people come, they would have massed on the grass at Tamar – a vastly preferable place to congregate.

3) Arresting 5 LegCo members including Emily Lau and Fernando Cheung for bringing sound systems into the area. More anger was generated.

4) Tear gas. It didn’t work. To a lesser extent, the same holds for pepper spray. It produced piles of photos and videos of old and infirm being treated after the gas. It gave elder statesmen with no organisational sway with students a voice to attract the middle class (think Martin Lee, who was gassed). It was directed not only onto Harcourt Road, but also to the, by then, lightly populated occupied area in front of LegCo. Many, many people of all ages who had not thought of coming down dropped what they were doing and came in droves. The only place it seemed really justified was when the police needed to escape a box they had put themselves into between Hutchison House and the PLA building (see above story). How did they get into that mess? They tear gassed their way there, only to find that the just dispersed crowd came right back behind them. Whoops.

Tear gas, no fear gas
Another less discussed impact of the tear gas saga: It has lost its power to threaten many students and future protesters. Almost the whole HT team took multiple hits of tear gas in the field. What did we learn? It’s not a big deal. It isn’t pleasant and it isn’t permanent. HT secured technical specifications from the British.

2) and 4) above in particular drove many people to Occupy sites. Other Occupy’s popped up as young people and followers gathered spontaneously in Mongkok, CWB and TST. The student leaders struggled and failed to exert much control over these movements and found themselves having to react to the situation on the ground to stay at the front. They are riding a wave precariously, not driving a bus. They tried to send everyone home in the wee hours on Monday – to no avail. They told people not to go to Mongkok last night and were ignored (probably to the salvation of the people besieged there). In Mongkok in particular, there are still no recognised leaders. So who can call it off, regardless of how government talks go? No one.

Police finally began to get it right when they withdrew from the streets and let the occupation commence. It wasn’t ideal, and they probably let it go too far, real estate wise, into Central, but had little choice at that point. As per above, they handled Mong Kok reasonably well, especially considering that they were being roundly abused by yellow and blue ribbon adherents alike. Since then, they have kept a lid on things.