Stop and Check
Two interesting articles in the South China Morning Post today highlight the issue of on the spot stop-and-search by Hong Kong police. The facts are eye opening. Hong Kong performs 4 times more on the spot checks than London and New York. In London the crime rate is 10 times higher than that of Hong Kong.
It is common to see the police stopping young men and asking them for their ID cards. Now a second story highlights the fact that, and particularly along Nathan Road, South Asian men tend to be stopped more than anyone else.
About a year ago at a class at Chungking Mansions we had a police officer join our discussion as a guest. ‘Stop and Check’ searches were an important part of the discussion. He emphasised that these checks were responding to crime alerts; basic information about what was happening in specific areas. Most white people in Hong Kong have never had the pleasure of an on the spot Stop and Check. I in fact have never heard of it happening. The police officer argued that this was because the crime alerts dictate who is stopped in particular areas, if a white guy is suspected in Yuen Long of committing a robbery they will pursue such enquiry.
These answers were not sufficient for a number of people in the class who felt that this was insincere. There is a passport of whiteness, and wealth that is clearly apparent in this Stop and Check routine. So much so that I have had some friends a Chungking Mansions try to show how often they get stopped by walking past police officers, yet my presence alone seemed to prevent a ‘Stop and Check’. Years ago a friend who has since left Hong Kong complained that he was never stopped by police. Even though he was Indian, his westernised and cosmopolitan disposition appeared to shield him from being stopped. He found the whole way in which he was overlooked as a suspect a little unsettling, making him question the way his ethnicity was read.
Another dynamic is also of interest. In his research with South Asians and the ambiguity of the status of asylum seeker vs illegal immigrant, Justin Murgai has noted how some illegal workers have rented ID cards off of Pakistani permanent residents to avoid detection in Stop and Check scenarios.
Undoubtedly much of the debate here focusses on Nathan Rd. But I have also observed numerous check in Happy Valley where, along with a Police Station, there is a distinct police presence. Just about everyone who I have seen being stopped by police in Happy Valley are young Chinese males, with working class dress, in many cases with a workbag or delivery cart.
Nevertheless these two reports highlight that whilst Hong Kong is a safe city, there is increasing discontent with the ways in which ‘Stop and Check’ seem to focus particular people and seem not be detecting crime, even if they do somewhat serve as a deterrent.
(photos from the SCMP)
- the two stories referred to