An American lawyer gets caught up in China's crackdown in Hong Kong

Back in 2019 an American lawyer named Samuel Bickett was walking to dinner in Hong Kong when he saw a man hitting a teenager with a collapsible baton. The man was asked by others if he was with the police (he was dressed in ordinary clothes) and he denied it. Bickett tried to pull the baton away from him and wound up in a fight after the man flipped over a railing trying to hit Bickett with his baton. Part of the incident was captured on video. Bickett is wearing a blue sweater. You won’t see him right away.

As you probably guessed, the man with the baton was in fact an off-duty police officer. Had he identified himself when he arrived the situation may have gone very differently. Today, Bickett was sentenced for assaulting a police officer to four months and two weeks in prison:

In Tuesday’s sentencing, Magistrate Arthur Lam called Bickett’s acts “a serious threat to public order,” citing multiple injuries suffered by the police officer. As the assault happened in a “crowded area,” Bickett’s actions could have affected others’ emotions and “incited a bigger conflict,” he said.

In his verdict last month, Lam said the officer was not concealing his identity and could not have been expected to respond as the crowd was disrespectfully asking him if he was “popo” — a slang term for the police. Bickett, Lam said, was not acting in self-defense but simply wanted to snatch the baton.

The Daily Beast has a bit more:

Bickett argued that he had no idea Yu was an officer and that he just thought he was a man threatening someone younger unprovoked. But the judge, Magistrate Arthur Lam Hei-wei, disagreed and said he understood why Yu would first deny being a cop, especially under the circumstances in which he was asked if he was a “po-po.”

Yu claimed that Bickett knelt on his chest and punched his face, which, from the video, seems an exaggeration of the events.

This is a pretty nutty justification of the officer’s behavior. He didn’t identify himself and even denied he was a police officer when asked (though he might have said yes the second time just as the fight over the baton started). In any case, it seems clear people around him didn’t know he was police which is why they were calling repeatedly for someone to “get the police.”

As for the fight itself, Bickett did throw one punch but it’s not clear that it connected. There don’t appear to be any real injuries here. Bickett himself described what this was really about:

In a statement shared with The Washington Post before he was jailed, Bickett said the verdict was “outrageous” and a violation of legal precedent. The former prosecutor in his case, he added, told his defense team that charges were pursued because Bickett had embarrassed the police.

That’s the bottom line. The police were embarrassed and couldn’t let the person who embarrassed them get away with it. So rather than hold the officer accountable for failing to identify himself properly they just throw the book at the American who was trying to be a good Samaritan. Samuel Bickett is effectively a political prisoner of a regime looking to save face.