The superintendent of Hong Kong’s police force dismissed criticism of officers shooting a teenager in the chest during protests by claiming on Wednesday that “professional firearms training” is necessary to judge if the incident constituted police brutality.
The 18-year-old protester, Tsang Chi-king, was one of thousands who took the streets for a “day of mourning” on Tuesday against celebrations in Beijing to observe the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party taking over China. The pro-democracy protest is demanding several measures to ensure that communist law does not apply on Hong Kong soil, including the direct election of lawmakers.
Hong Kong police refused to give a permit for the protests on Tuesday, therefore branding all unarmed protesters criminal “rioters.” Tsang, despite being in recovery after surgery in the hospital, was charged Thursday with rioting and “assaulting a police officer.” He faces up to ten years in prison.
Tsang is the first person to be shot with live rounds since protests erupted in June. Police have fired “warning shots” in the sky on several other occasions and seriously injured protesters with tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds.
Police also used water cannons to disperse protesters on Tuesday, some equipped with ink meant to stain the protesters to identify them later.
Chief Superintendent John Tse answered questions from reporters Wednesday at a press conference on the crackdown Tuesday, which saw a new single-day record of arrests in this wave of protests, according to the Hong Kong Foreign Press (HKFP). He dismissed criticism that the officer who shot Tsang used unnecessary force, particularly when he had other weapons to diffuse the situation available.
“Some people have never received any professional firearms training. What is their basis to question the police’s professional judgment?” he asked Chief Superintendent John Tse.
Hong Kong allows the legal possession of firearms, but strongly discourages it. A firearms possessions license costs 2,730 Hong Kong dollars ($348.06) and requires a thorough application and background check. Only once the China-controlled Hong Kong government deems an individual “fit and proper” to possess a firearm can they do so; Hong Kong’s government website appears to speak only of “air guns” with limited capacity as being legal.
In other words, very few people outside of Hong Kong’s police force have access to the “professional firearms training” Tse claimed was necessary to judge police brutality.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo similarly defended the as-yet-unnamed officer who shot Tse, leaving him in critical condition.
“My colleague was under a close-range attack. He made a decision in a split-second because he felt his life and his colleague’s were being threatened,” Lo said on Wednesday. “We believe [the action] was reasonable and legal.”
Chinese state media echoed the police’s defense.
“The life of the officer at the scene was under serious threat and he was forced to shoot at the assailant to protect his own life as well as his colleagues,” state news agency Xinhua declared on Wednesday. “[His] action was totally legal, legitimate and appropriate.”
The Global Times, another Communist Party newspaper, alleged that Tsang attacked the officer first with a baton – a claim that is behind the charges of assaulting a police officer that Tsang will fully face upon leaving the hospital.
Chinese media outlets further dismissed the protesters that took the streets Tuesday as a “basket of deplorables” – a phrase popularized by former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to refer to supporters of President Donald Trump – and “fanatical teeny-boppers.”
The HKFP reported, citing the police force, that officers arrested 269 people on Tuesday and fired around 1,400 tear gas canisters at crowds. Those arrested ranged from ages 12 to 71 and most were men.
The Hong Kong protest movement has taken to supporting Tsang. Thousands once again flooded Hong Kong’s streets on Wednesday and friends of Tsang’s identified him as a “role model” at his high school and an exemplary adolescent, not the “rioter” or thug that Hong Kong police are portraying him as.
In September, following the end of summer vacation, student protesters in Hong Kong announced a weekly boycott of classes on Monday as a form of protest against the Chinese regime.
The Hong Kong protest movement is making five demands of its government. The first, the withdrawal of a bill that would have allowed China to extradite anyone it considered in violation of its repressive speech and expression laws, has been met. Protesters are still demanding freedom for their political prisoners, the direct election of lawmakers, an end to referring to the protests as “riots,” and an independent investigation into police brutality.
While the Hong Kong political crisis is China’s largest domestic challenge, Communist Party dictator Xi Jinping has only vaguely mentioned the situation in public remarks. On Tuesday, speaking before the 100,000 people who marched in celebration of communism in Tiananmen Square, Xi insisted on his goal to “unite all Chinese sons and daughters,” including those in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and abroad, but did not directly reference the protests.