There are some crimes that you would consider risking your life to prevent. Illegal street racing is not one of them. But risk their lives is exactly what several members of the Hong Kong public were asked to do in a recent police operation that raises questions of civil rights, abuse of power and the basic humanity of the officers involved.
The facts are this. In the early hours of July 13, three taxis, a private car and a truck were stopped by police on an overpass in an industrial district of northeast Kowloon. The drivers were not told that their vehicles were being used as a makeshift roadblock to halt an illegal race of over a dozen cars that was fast approaching. Nor were they asked to leave their vehicles. Moments later, they were rammed by at least six racers. The remaining racers either executed 180-degree turns or smashed their way through the stationary vehicles. One of the taxi drivers, who feared that his taxi would be propelled off the overpass and onto the street below, told the local press of the incident’s resemblance to “the stunt actions in a movie.”
He suffered a minor injury to his shoulder, and a female passenger in one of the racing cars was taken to hospital. Perhaps the miraculous lack of more serious casualties, or deaths, explains the Hong Kong public’s uncharacteristic reticence about this scandal, but it shouldn’t. Illegal street racers—silly men with banal fantasies born of watching too many onscreen car chases and snorting too much ice—are not the sort of motorists who will stop at the sight of a parked taxi. There could just as easily have been corpses all over the overpass, and they could have belonged to anyone unlucky enough to have been randomly stopped. How is one to comply with police instructions in the wake of this? You’re going home after a night out, the passenger in a taxi that’s waved to a halt: what are you going to do? Sit there meekly in the glare of flashlights, hiccupping kebabs and vodka tonic, or fling the door open and run, because quite conceivably a snarling pack of turbocharged WRXs is about to cut you down?
The Commissioner of Police’s apology—that “there was an error of judgment in the operation”—is inexplicably inadequate but seems to have been accepted. There is no official call for an inquiry or for resignations. There is no talk of lawsuits. The question must be asked: Why not?