Hong Kong Police chief admits that officers arrived 35 minutes late after receiving the first report of attack on protesters by triad members at Yuen Long railway station. However, he denied allegations of collusion between the police and triad members over the violence.
On Monday (22 July), Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung said that the force’s capacity had been stretched thin across the island due to the recent protests. This resulted in the riot police’s late arrival on Sunday night.
On Sunday night, dozens of men clad in white stormed into the Yuen Long MTR station and classed with protesters, passengers and members of the public. The men in white are believed to be triad gangsters.
According to the Hospital Authority as reported by South China Morning Post (SCMP), around 45 people were either sent to the hospital or has treated themselves for injuries sustained during the attack.
Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) saying that the police failed to take action against the brutality that occurred and instead focused on “unnecessarily” firing tear gas at protesters in Sheung Wan. CHRF said in a statement, “Real thugs have attacked passersby, a journalist and a lawmaker, badly injuring them, but the police have failed to enforce the law. This has angered us greatly.”
SCMP also quoted witnesses saying that not a single police officer was present at the time of the attack and that people at the scene had to defend themselves with umbrellas and helmets against the men in white, who had used sticks and metal rods to physically attack protesters clad in black as well as other members of the public.
“Police didn’t show up while thugs rampaged through the station and attacked Yuen Long residents indiscriminately last night. There is clear collusion between police and the gangs,” said Pan-democratic lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, representing New Territories West.
Victims of the rampage were also reportedly “furious” with riot police who had arrived later, as they believed that riot police was responsible for letting the men in white run amok. Complaints were lodged at the district’s police station for police misconduct.
SCMP further reported that a spokesperson for Yoho Mall – which is located next to the MTR station – said that they couldn’t get through to the police to report the incident.
Police claimed to be overwhelmed by 999 calls, videos show police on-site letting penetrators go
A law enforcement source told SCMP that the police received hundreds of calls in New Territories North between 10pm and midnight on the day of the incident. Yuen Long District Commander and Chief Superintendent Lee Wai-man said in Monday’s press conference that the police were unable to keep up with the amount of calls they were receiving.
In that press conference, Mr Lo said that they received the first call about the incident at 10:45pm. Two officers had apparently arrived on the scene within 7 minutes but chose to back off and wait for reinforcements instead after deciding that they were not properly equipped to deal with the armed crowds. But by the time reinforcements arrived at 11.20pm, the attackers has fled.
Explaining the reason for the late arrival, Mr Lo added that police officers were attending to other assaults and arson incidents in Yuen Long while other resources were deployed across the island to deal with other incidents.
One such other incident was a similar attack by men in white at the Nam Pin Wai Village. Referring to that incident, Yuen Long assistant district commander of Crime Yau Nai-keun said “Just because a person is wearing white it doesn’t mean they participated in the fight. We cannot arrest them because of their clothes. We have to be fair to all sides. I cannot say people wearing black joined brawls either.”
Responding to the skirmish at the village, officers in riot gear surrounded the village at 1am, but did not intervene until 3.30am.
A live-feed on RTHK of the incident in Nam Pin Wai showed men in white armed with weapons, but Tay said that no arrests could be made as the police were unable to ascertain whether those men were the same ones who had participated in the ‘brawls’.
A live stream video by Apple Daily which was posted by a Redditor on Sun (21 Jul), shows the police allegedly letting the men in white walk free after the attacks. The video shows the men entering a vehicle with a mainland Chinese license plate, thus fuelling speculation about the role of pro-Beijing factions in sparking the incidents of mob violence on Sunday night.
Another shows the police on the scene, speaking with those in whites and letting them walk away.
“Every time there is a major event which may lead to violent confrontation, we have to redeploy our manpower from various districts to Hong Kong Island, so that I can ensure sufficient manpower to deal with these incidents,” Mr Lo said.
“Violence will only breed more violence. We will review our manpower deployment and do our best to ensure the public order and safety in all districts of Hong Kong.”
He added that the police will gather evidence on the incident as soon as possible and make arrests.
Responding to questions on why some police stations nearby the attacks where shut, Mr Lo explained that a large group of protesters were surrounding the stations and so the doors were shut for safety reasons. He noted that the police were still reachable through the 999 hotline.
“I want to reiterate that the police will not tolerate any violence. And we will pursue the attackers at all costs, in order to bring them to justice,” Mr Lo said.
Mr Lo’s statements were prompted social workers marching on Monday afternoon from Long Ping MTR station to the police station against the “police’s failure to protect Yuen Long residents from thugs”. The social workers then handed over evidence they had gathered of gang members assaulting residents the night before. The social workers also lodged police misconduct complaints at the district’s police station.
These protesters on Monday were accompanied by 30 officers at the protesters’ request.
“We are exercising our legal right as citizens of Hong Kong to report crimes. It is the police’s responsibility to protect us social workers in doing so,” said Lun Chi-wai, president of Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union.
Carrie Lam distances the government from the attackers
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Chen Yuet-ngor said in the same press conference, “Everyone should distance themselves from violence. Any accusation that the administration, me, the police chief and his colleagues colluded with the mob is groundless.”
“Such accusations hope to weaken the administration and make it harder for us to run the city,” she added.