For more background on the protests, click here.
Tensions in Hong Kong are beginning to reach a fever pitch. Last week, the city’s police fired their first live rounds at protestors, injuring an 18-year-old high school student in the shoulder. According to CBS, the victim was left bleeding on the ground screaming “my chest is in pain, I want to go to the hospital!” before being taken while unconscious. He was treated by doctors before being arrested.
The police commissioner stated that they would decide whether to press charges or not. The victim was later charged with assaulting an officer and could potentially face future charges for “rioting.”
Protestors had attempted to crash a military parade in Beijing celebrating the Communist Party’s 70-year reign by staging illegal marches when the events escalated to violence. The officer who shot the student claimed that he was attacked by violent “rioters” and the police have claimed his actions were “lawful and reasonable.”
Video of the shooting showed protestors in riot gear chasing and hitting a police officer with umbrellas and metal rods. Other police threw a tear gas canister, then the shooter pulled out his revolver and fired near point-blank range into the group. When another protestor came to the aid of the victim, he was tackled to the ground by another officer.
Days later, reports of another alleged shooting circulated. A 14-year-old boy was allegedly shot in the leg by a plainclothes officer who claimed to have had his car windows smashed in and opened fire in self-defense as he fell to the ground. Reports claim that protestors surrounded the officer’s car after he was suspected of bumping into someone.
The police could not confirm that any protestor had been hit by a bullet and seemed to only be concerned that the officer’s magazine could have been picked up during the conflict. They again justified the officer’s actions:
“Police warn the rioters to stop all illegal acts immediately and will deploy appropriate force to disperse and arrest rioters.”
The police and protestors have continuously been at odds with each other and this escalation of violence from Hong Kong’s police is greatly concerning. Previously, they had resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests, but have been slowly upgrading to include water cannons, some laced with blue-dye to mark protestors for later arrests.
The government response has only made this situation worse, for they have now outlawed masks — the uniform of protestors — and have labeled all protestors as “rioters” which means increased prison sentences. Those found wearing masks could face up to one year in prison and if they refuse, they could be sentenced to an additional six months. Supporters of the movement have claimed that these steps are getting closer and closer to the government declaring martial law.
It’s certainly been a long battle for democracy since citizens first took to the streets and urged their government to abandon an extradition bill. The big question that comes from these shootings is a big, “What now?” When the police were accused of shirking their duties when protestors were attacked by masked assailants, the protests only grew in intensity and fervor.
Protestors have met the increasing violence of police with alike violence. In the last couple of months, protestors started throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks in response to tear gas canisters, and in one instance used a giant slingshot to fling the projectiles.
Will this pattern continue? Does one then match the violence of police and begin arming themselves with guns? Could Hong Kong be moving to an inevitable civil war between the State and the people? It’s this uncertainty that makes the next month’s actions so critical in this conflict.
Even if protestors ramp up the violence, it’s clear the government will take the side of the officers and claim they’re fighting in self-defense. Though the first strikes were thrown when these gatherings were declared illegal, those shot and likely to be shot in the future will not receive justice. The whole world will be watching this conflict and looking to see who will be the victor between free people and an authoritarian Chinese government.