Thousands of Hong Kong citizens, many of them fellow students, marched on Wednesday to support Tony Tsang Chi-kin, the 18-year-old demonstrator shot in the chest by police with live ammunition on Tuesday afternoon.
Police officials defended the shooting as a justifiable act of self-defense, while protesters accused the police of looking for excuses to murder them.
Tsang was one of over a hundred civilians injured on Tuesday, several of them seriously or critically. The police reported making 269 arrests and sustaining about 30 injuries themselves.
Tsang is reportedly in stable condition following surgery to remove the bullet. Early reports suggested he was shot in the shoulder, but doctors said the round struck his left lung, coming within three centimeters of his heart.
Police commissioner Stephen Lo called Tuesday “one of the most violent, chaotic days in the history of Hong Kong” during an angry evening press briefing and denounced the protesters as “rioters.”
Lo said police fired six live rounds, including five warning shots plus the round fired into Tsang’s chest. He claimed the Tsang shooting was “reasonable and legal” because the officer had a legitimate fear that Tsang was threatening his life by swinging a metal club.
Protesters did not receive this excuse well, rallying on Wednesday to accuse the police of attempting to murder Tsang and looking for excuses to employ extreme force against other demonstrators. International human rights organizations also denounced the shooting as “alarming,” “excessive,” and “unnecessary.”
Tsang’s fellow students held a news conference on Wednesday in which they described him as a “role model to the junior school students” and pushed back against demands for the principal to expel him and resign.
The police said Tsang is considered under arrest but they have not yet charged him with a crime. Critics of the protest movement noted the video of Tsang’s shooting also showed the group he was with kicking a downed police officer and beating him with metal pipes, calling on school administrators to officially acknowledge and denounce his actions.
“The anti-extradition movement that has started this year gave him renewed purpose,” said a student who claimed to know Tsang. “He often said he would rather die than be arrested.”
“If you do not hear our voices now, we will ensure the new government that succeeds you will avenge every single atrocity you have committed against us. This means war,” another student warned Hong Kong officials.
“The people of Hong Kong are sick and tired of having mere words of condemnation as their only shield against lethal bullets and rifles. Because by now it is beyond clear that this government does not even take its own people seriously,” he added.
Wednesday’s demonstrations included a rally outside the courtroom where some protesters are facing prosecution for rioting. Rally participants demanded all charges against these protesters be dropped and stood with their hands over their chests in tribute to Tsang.
The hand-over-heart gesture swiftly became popular across the city, joining other protest symbolism such as wearing an eyepatch to remember a woman who lost her eye to a police beanbag round and holding up all five fingers spread to indicate that all five core demands of the protest movement should be accepted by the government.