The Black Lives Matter movement has been an element of public consciousness for almost 7 years now, since the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer in July 2013. It has now been 4 weeks since the death of George Floyd and outbreak of protests in Minneapolis, with the Black Lives Matter movement being at the forefront of public and social debate in the US and more recently the UK.
While many people’s social media feeds and everyday conversation may have strayed away from the conversation about racism, protests are still ongoing, and the movement is far from over. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, student-led protests in favour of democracy, against police brutality and the controversial extradition bill have become a mainstay of day-to-day life in the Special Administrative Region.
Hong Kong serves as an example of well thought out, strategic and organised peaceful protest. Although not all of the aims of the pro-democracy camp have been realised, they have succeeded in gaining public support and raising awareness for their cause, as well as the withdrawal of the extradition bill in October 2019, 7 months after the initial introduction of the bill by Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
In spite of police violence against protestors, the influence of the Chinese Government, and the imprisonment of pro-democracy movement leaders, the pro-democracy camp has succeeded in gaining a place in public debate. The long-term protests serve as a reminder that long term organised protest can have an effect on public debate and social policy, and the Black Lives Matter movement may benefit from some of these methods.
Here are some examples of the kinds of the strategic organisation used in Hong Kong that could be transferred to the Black Lives Matter protests to ensure some level of safety for protesters, and retain their effectiveness in the long term:
- Defence against Tear Gas
Protestors in Ferguson were famously helped by Palestinian twitter users, who told them how to use milk and water to flush out a person’s eyes following the use of tear gas. In Hong Kong, they have a different approach.
Individuals known as ‘firefighters’ will use a traffic cone to direct the gas upwards, similar to the effect of a chimney, instead of allowing it to disperse into the crowd. If no traffic cones are available, the tear gas shell will be smothered with water or a wet towel. Techniques like this prevent damage to one of the most prolific methods of crowd dispersal that the American police are currently using.
- Avoidance of stampedes
Another danger of protests, especially when violence or dispersal techniques are used is the risk of a stampede. In Hong Kong, protestors will surround the area they are trying to vacate, for example a tear gas shell, and chant ‘one, two, one two’ and step away in unison to avoid a rush of people.
- Use of sign language
Often, these protests are fraught with rubber bullets, water cannons, music, and chanting, making verbal communication through the crowd very difficult. Instead, protest organisers have developed a range of sign language to communicate needs for any safety equipment.
- Unilateral structure
In Hong Kong, leaders like Joshua Wong, Benny Tai, and Chan Kin-Man have all been imprisoned in the past. Since their imprisonment, the Umbrella Movement and Occupy Central, two of the most prolific pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong, have adopted a unilateral structure. This way, there are less obvious figureheads for authorities to target and imprison. In the Black Lives Matter movement, prolific leaders have also been jailed.
More worryingly, vocal figures like Darren Seals and Edward Crawford have been found dead. The circumstances of which are unknown, but to avoid such instances of leaders going missing, being imprisoned or dying, the movement needs to be somewhat anonymous.
Therefore, a leaderless structure could help to provide unified solidarity and not create an environment where individuals can be targeted. Online platforms like LIHKG (a platform similar to reddit) and Telegram are used to communicate and make decisions through polls. Hence, the unilateral structure also helps to maintain an effective decision-making process.
- Long term strategies of occupation
As previously mentioned, the goals of the Hong Kong protests around the extradition bill were achieved 10 months after its introduction, and 4 months after mass protests took hold. Evidently, a long-term approach is more effective. Similar to the actions of Extinction rebellion earlier this year, the Occupy Central movement had success with occupying areas of central Hong Kong, in one instance their demonstration lasted 79 days.
There is little doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement has succeeded in establishing itself within the public conscience. But there is a long way to go. The officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor are yet to be arrested or charged, and 3 out of 4 of the officers from the Minneapolis Police Department were released from jail on bail in early June.
Further to this, Andres Guardado was killed by a Sheriff’s deputy in LA County, highlighting the issue of police violence against people of colour across the board. In the UK, the death of Shukri Abdi and multiple instances of unnecessary force towards young people of colour, as well as the Windrush Scandal indicate that police violence and racism are a problem everywhere, not just in the US. Progressive movements the world over would do well to learn some lessons from the actions of protest leaders in Hong Kong.