Can the term ‘cockroach’ actually be a compliment for Hong Kong protesters? Officers from police’s public relations unit contradict each other on pesky issue
Team member says on TV show that insect is resilient and can survive under difficult conditions. But senior colleague admits at press conference such language from the force is not ideal
A member of Hong Kong police’s public relations unit has said the use of the word “cockroach” by officers to describe anti-government protesters should not be over-interpreted as it could actually be a compliment – a claim later contradicted by his senior who admitted the term was “not ideal”.
Speaking on the RTHK programme “Hong Kong Connection” on Monday, Chief Inspector Tam Yu-hei was referring to insults traded between police and demonstrators in the months-long social unrest roiling the city.
“Aren’t cockroaches full of vitality and can survive in times of difficulties?” Tam argued. He also cited the term “dog” used by protesters on officers.
However, at a regular press briefing on the same day, Superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen, Tam’s senior from the Police Public Relations Branch, conceded: “It is not ideal to label a group of people as cockroaches,” echoing earlier views from the police top brass.
“Tensions have risen between police and protesters in the last few months ... We hope members of the force can control their emotions in the field,” he said.
In July, the Junior Police Officers’ Association, a union representing many frontline officers, started referring to protesters in its official statements as “cockroaches”.
Asked in August about the matter, Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung from the PPRB had said such language was “not ideal”, but added that all parties were “under a lot of stress”.
That same month, Tsuen Wan district assistant commander Simon Southgate had issued a reminder to his colleagues not to call protesters “cockroaches”.
The PPRB had responded to multiple media inquiries over the past months, insisting that such language was not appropriate.
On Monday’s TV programme, Tam also noted that more than 3,000 officers had been doxxed since the protests erupted in June, adding that it was very frustrating that people were targeting officers’ families to express their discontent with the force.
He said, however, that he did not agree with the actions of officers who refused to show their warrant cards, as this made it difficult for the public to file complaints.
Tam said he looked forward to hearing people’s feedback regarding his comments on the show.
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