The protests in Hong Kong, started in response to the now-suspended extradition bill last month, have continued to escalate into violent clashes with the police and protestors being charged with crimes. Though they have met their initial goal, protestors still want the bill completely abandoned, and the demonstrations have evolved to demand the removal of the government designation of “riot” for demonstrations, the formation of an independent inquiry for cases of police brutality and amnesty for arrested activists. Hong Kong’s citizens simply want a more accountable government and to be freer from the influence of China.
The past two weeks’ events have shown that these citizens are fed up with the government continuing to shut down their gatherings and each confrontation with police only adds fuel to the fire. The pattern has been the same at each clash: It begins as a peaceful protest and then devolves into confrontations and outrage.
The violence began to ramp up on July 22 when citizens accused police of doing nothing in response to attacks by men in masks against demonstrators at the Yuen Long transit station returning from a rally. Critics accused pro-Beijing politicians of hiring the assailants, and one Democratic Party representative accused the government of allowing triads, an organized crime syndicate in China, of running freely in the country. As of publication, there is no concrete evidence that those who beat the protestors were involved in the triad.
A week later, a “Yuen Long Manifesto” began to circulate online that called for a public apology from the Hong Kong police, and for an investigation into the attack. Citizens returned to the city to protest the previous weekend’s violence despite their gathering being banned. They attempted to get around the ban by claiming satirically that those gathering were either shopping or playing Poke’mon GO and that “We just all happen to be gathered, and we happen to be angry at the police, but we can’t call it a protest.”
— isabella steger (@stegersaurus) July 27, 2019
Unfortunately, the police still considered it an illegal gathering and fired tear gas into the crowds. Forty-five people were injured, but little did anyone know it would be the beginning of the most violent days yet in this blossoming movement.
Then on Sunday police again used tear gas and rubber bullets after protestors defied police orders to remain in a park and began marching towards Hong Kong’s representative office, chanting “Reclaim Hong Kong”. The demonstrators retaliated by throwing rocks, eggs, and tear gas canisters back at police.
That weekend saw more than 20 protestors arrested and charged with rioting, with one person charged with assaulting a police officer. It was the first time protestors had seriously been charged since 1997 and made those citizens voicing their disgust furious. In response, they took to the railways of the country the next day and arranged a sit-in, causing delays in trains and long lines of citizens who had to take buses to other stations.
Officials in China called the weekend’s events “horrendous” and pushed for more forceful actions against the protestors, an action that has only provoked more unrest. Those officials also blamed people in Western nations for encouraging and supporting the citizens, while criticizing police for not doing their “due diligence.”
Chinese news outlet People’s Daily, the Communist Party paper, stated that, “At a time like this, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government and the police should not hesitate or have any unnecessary ‘psychological worries’ about taking all necessary steps [to restore order],” a sentiment that should shock anyone who believes in democracy and the right tp protest.
Despite all of this, the protests have continued into their 10th consecutive week, and the government seems to be on the losing side of public perception. This week, Hong Kong’s lawyers joined the movement in a second silent march from the country’s highest court to the office of the Justice Secretary to urge the government to keep its justice department independent and to cease politically-motivated prosecutions.
Beijing has begun reaching out to a “silent majority” of people who were against the extradition bill, but do not support the protests, in hope of uniting them against the “radicals.” Spokesman for China’s Hong Kong policy office, Yang Guang, stated, “We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them — those who play with fire will perish by it.” The demonstrators responded by accusing the police of being overly violent and the government intentionally misrepresenting them.
If similar movements can tell the world anything, it’s that the clashes between the people and government of Hong Kong will not be done anytime soon and further pushback from the state will only continue to escalate it. Hong Kong’s people are fed up with the looming, corrupt influence of Beijing on their politics, and for violating the spirit of democracy.