HONG KONG – As a long-time district councilor in Yuen Long, a suburban town considered the wildest district in Hong Kong with a strong presence of gangsters, Zachary Wong is no stranger to thuggishness.
He has had two cars vandalized at different times and his office spray-painted with the Chinese character meaning “kill.” More than once when he ran for elections of Yuen Long’s District Council, he received phone calls telling him to renounce his bid.
All these incidents, he says, were the work of members of Yuen Long’s organized crime syndicates, known as triad societies in Hong Kong, or, simply put, “local mafias.”
Such groups, mostly dominated by men, have been around a long time, way before Hong Kong’s sovereignty was returned to China from Britain in 1997.
Yet never has he imagined the triads would go so far as they did Sunday night and, even more shockingly, that the police would fail in their role to maintain public order when the gangsters wreaked havoc in public.
A marauding mob of men, clad in white shirts and armed with weapons including wooden batons and rattan canes, stormed into the Yuen Long metro station and indiscriminately attacked commuters late at night.
The incident sent shockwaves through the former British colony, as many Hongkongers woke up Monday morning to watch widely circulated video footage on the social media, showing the masked assailants beating passengers inside a train, by an escalator on the train platform and in the concourse area of the train station.
The primary target of the mob were black-clad protesters who had just returned from a large anti-government rally in the city center Sunday afternoon. But they also attacked journalists filming the event, as well as people who happened to cross their path.
The police were conspicuous in their absence in the bloodshed. They received a call for help at around 10.40pm. Seven minutes later, two police officers appeared but left the scene soon. It was only at around 11.20pm that the Police Tactical Unit, which mainly deals with large-scale emergencies, arrived.
By that time, dozens of citizens were already injured and a considerable amount of blood was shed. Forty-five people were injured, including a pregnant woman who was seen in video footage lying on the floor.
The police made no arrest and no white-clad man was stopped or questioned.
At least 45 people have been hospitalized or have sought treatment, according to the Hospital Authority. One person is in critical condition.
“Words fail me,” Wong told Efe Monday morning. “It’s totally unacceptable for the triads to beat up innocent people indiscriminately, and it’s totally unacceptable for the police to turn a blind eye to all that, arriving at the scene after the attacks were over.”
And it was not as if the police had no knowledge of what was to come, Wong pointed out.
According to the district councilor, a day before the anti-government protest Sunday, some social media posts appeared, warning people in Yuen Long against going to the protest or they would be attacked. Wong reported the issue to the police upon seeing those posts.
“I have told the police something might happen on Sunday. They could not have not known something might be up,” he said.
Shortly after 7 pm Sunday, dozens of white-clad men were seen gathered near a shopping mall in Yuen Long, shouting and chasing after people in black tops. In most of the recent wave of anti-government protests roiling Hong Kong since June, triggered by a controversial extradition bill, black has been the dress code.
Wong said he received several phone calls from about five locals telling him about the incident and that they tried to seek police help to no avail.
“One resident rang the police and was told: ‘If you are scared, then don’t go out.’ The police then hung up. Some people decided to call the fire service and an ambulance depot for the injured to receive first aid treatment,” Wong notes.
Stanley Yip, a resident in Tuen Mun, which is another suburban town near Yuen Long, was riding the metro to return home from a dinner with friends when he saw about a dozen white-clad men attacking passengers on the train compartment he was in.
“I saw a girl crying for first aid help for an injured person. [The attackers] looked angry and fierce and they kept swearing. They were all in their 30s to 40s.
“The train stayed on the platform for quite some time. Then the doors finally closed. But then they opened again. Every time they opened, more thugs managed to get in and attacked people.”
John Tse Chun-chung, chief superintendent of the police public relations branch, explained the absence of the police when speaking to hosts of a program on Hong Kong’s Commercial Radio Monday morning.
He said police officers were busy dealing with incidents in Yuen Long during the evening, and that the two policemen who briefly appeared and then left as they decided the situation was too severe for them to deal with. They headed back and asked for the police force to deploy more manpower to the scene.
Although the duo was each equipped with a gun, the metro station was an enclosed space and the use of gun might lead to greater danger.
Hong Kong has been gripped by anti-government protests for the last seven weeks since the city’s local leader, Carrie Lam, published plans for new extradition rules that critics said would allow China to target dissidents and human rights activists.
Although the bill has since been scrapped, weekly rallies have morphed into a catch-all pro-democracy movement.