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

Lilian Cheng

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.

Chief Inspector Tam Yu-hei says the use of the word ‘cockroach’ by officers to describe protesters should not be over-interpreted as it could actually be a compliment. Photo: RTHK

“We may see it as police being loyal and obedient,” Tam said, concluding that his colleagues in the force were very professional and had vowed not to be hostile towards anyone.

‘Cockroach’ – where does the derogatory term come from?

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”.

Tensions have risen between Hong Kong’s police and protesters. Photo: Edmond So

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”.

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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.

Additional reporting by Kathleen Magramo

This article 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 first appeared on South China Morning Post

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