This is an unpublished column originally penned for Time Out Magazine.
In conclusion, Manila police lacked gear and training during August’s hostage crisis. Any further media commentary or sensational analysis which went beyond this simple statement was redundant, unnecessary and arguably dangerous.
Voyeuristic tabloids splashing a bloody corpse on their cover, cynical companies advertising their ‘condolences’ (complete with prominent logos) and opportunistic, diversion-hungry politicians were all beneficiaries of the media circus surrounding the bus hijacking. This hyper-attentive, intrusive press coverage – often dubbed ‘grief porn’ – was also seen during events such as Princess Diana’s death, Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and the murder of Anna Svidersky in Vancouver.
Prompted by similar gratuitous and emotive reporting, HK subsequently experienced a phenomenon known as ‘mourning sickness’ where readers became actors and the entire populace indulged in mass grief and mourning. But this unified outpouring of sorrow and anger was mostly related to our own emotional needs rather than any real empathy with the victims, whom most of us had never met.
Were Hong Kongers really so inexorably compassionate, we would have seen similar reactions to the ongoing suffering in Pakistan or drought-hit Niger. Few protested in the streets when numerous Chinese children were tragically hacked to death in no less than 7 separate incidents in the mainland this year – yet the murderous perpetrators were all lone, hell-bent madmen just like Rolando Mendoza.
As the days wore on, the eagerness of strangers to be associated with the victim’s misfortune reached a frightening nadir as a minority – such as political candidate Lam Yi Lai – attacked Filipinos in general and even sacked their Filipino workers.
Manila’s police are right to conduct an internal investigation, but HK must also conduct an internal review of its reaction to the crisis. The knee-jerk political response and journalistic frenzy did nothing to aid the victims, their families or multi-cultural cohesion whilst the collective public mourning it provoked, genuine or not, should never excuse outright racism.