A clumsy attempt by the Hong Kong police force to co-opt the art world’s most famous banana to make light of their frequent use of tear gas on pro-democracy protesters spectacularly backfired on Friday.
Using its official Twitter account, the embattled force posted a picture of a tear gas cartridge taped to a black background, mimicking the “Art Basel Banana,” the conceptual artwork of a banana duct-taped to a wall, which made headlines last week when three editions were sold for $120,000 to $150,000 each.
It added: “For a Police officer, using force, including tear gas, is always the last resort. If rioters don’t use violence, Hong Kong will be safe and there’s no reason for us to use force. Say NO to violence. Let’s leave the tear gas cartridge on the wall forever.”
The tone-deaf messaging sparked a Twitter backlash and widespread mockery of the claim that the use of tear gas during anti-government demonstrations in the Asian financial hub was “the last resort.”
Since the anti-government movement began in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, police officers have fired nearly 16,000 tear gas rounds and made more than 6,000 arrests during demonstrations that have at times seen violent clashes with protesters.
Many responded with video of incidents where riot officers have lobbed teargas at journalists and members of the public for no apparent reason. The protests have been saturated with media coverage, much of it livestreamed.
One clip showed a riot officer appearing at the entrance of a metro station and casually throwing a tear gas cannister at a journalist’s helmet. Another shows an officer aiming at people on a bridge as they watch police vans drive off.
Accusations of officers’ excessive use of force have led to a breakdown of trust between the Hong Kong police and the public.
“Just another failed PR show. Because literally, no one stands with them,” remarked one jaded Twitter user about the force’s latest social media effort.
Meanwhile, it was revealed on Friday that the police force received about £91 million in overtime pay from June to November, which works out at an average of £8,300 for each officer.