Monday, January 11, 2010

Hong Kong Acid Attacks: the Likely vs. the Possible

Six times in a little more than a year, most recently on Saturday, someone has dropped a bottle filled with acid into a crowded street in Hong Kong.  Nobody knows who is doing this or why.  No demands or threats have been made.  But every once in a while, a jug full of acid lands in a crowd, and people are seriously hurt.  Thirty people were wounded on Saturday, and more than 100 have been in all.

CNN ran a story today in which the reporter investigated how hard (or easy) it would be for someone to pull off an attack like this.  The reporter discovered that it was extremely easy to get to the top of the apartment building that witnesses say the bottles came from.  I guess you could limit acid attacks by making it harder to get onto tall buildings, but that's probably using a very blunt instrument for a relatively limited problem. 

CNN also ran a piece over the weekend on acid attacks around the world, in which we discover that acid is rarely used as a weapon in western countries but more commonly used in south Asia.  There are serious cultural reasons, which CNN chose not to tackle, why acid is used as a weapon against women in some countries, but the attacks in Hong Kong seem very different.  These are impersonal.  No one is throwing acid in other people's faces.  They are anonymously dropping it from above.

I have often said that we live our lives by what is likely, not by what is possible.  We don't like to think about the million things that could go wrong every day in the course of ordinary business.  We don't contemplate the possibility of a strong wind blowing a tree onto us or the roof collapsing.  We trust that, for the most part, the other driver isn't actually trying to crash into us and a knife left in a kitchen will be used to dice vegetables. We know that bad things happen, but they aren't very likely, and to dwell on them would prevent us from living our lives.

So most of us, when we go out to run errands, don't give a whole lot of thought to whether someone might drop acid on us from a tall building.  It could happen, but it's so unlikely that it's not worth our stress.  Then, from time to time, a story like this catches our eye.  We still know it's only possible, not likely.  But once in a while our eyes drift up to the rooftops above us, and we catch ourselves wondering, until we give ourselves the time to forget that this is possible, or remember that it's not likely, once again.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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