Hong Kong police shot a 14-year-old boy this weekend as protests continued across the city, growing more intense after chief executive Carrie Lam invoked long-dormant emergency powers and banned the wearing of masks in public.
Police officials said a more aggressive response was needed because “rioters” are attacking civilians who are not involved in the protests.
A police statement said the 14-year-old boy was struck by a bullet and hospitalized after an officer used his gun to defend himself against protesters armed with gasoline bombs. The boy was reportedly in stable condition with a gunshot wound to the leg as of Monday afternoon.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) described video that showed the plainclothes officer getting into a “quarrel” with protesters in which he was “attacked from behind by a masked man,” knocked to the ground, and beaten.
The officer fired a shot to disperse the crowd – evidently the shot that struck the young boy in the leg – and was then set on fire by a gasoline bomb that detonated at his feet. The officer dropped his gun while attempting to beat out the flames, but later “took it back with force” after a protester tried to pick it up.
According to a source in the police department, the warning shot only hit the boy because a protester stuck the officer’s arm while he was trying to fire in the air.
Another video showed the officer with blood on his face making a phone call for help, only to have another gasoline bomb detonate near him. The officer’s car was reportedly vandalized and pushed onto the train tracks. The officer was later treated for burns across two percent of his body.
SCMP cited criticism that the plainclothes officer in question ran several people down with his car before the confrontation in which he was beaten, but no video evidence of this had been produced as of Monday.
Protesters who were already angry about the shooting of an 18-year-old student last week became even more furious as news of the 14-year-old’s injury spread. The L.A. Times quoted some demonstrators who talked about overwhelming Lam’s emergency laws through sheer numbers, confronting the authorities with hundreds of thousands of people wearing “illegal” masks and daring the police to arrest or shoot them all. The L.A. Times reported:
“Carrie Lam wants to turn Hong Kong into China. This is only the start. Next, they censor the media, monitor our communications online, reporting people,” said Samuel, 18, a protester in a full-face mask who, like other protesters, asked not to use his full name for protection from authorities. “We have no way to keep ourselves safe anymore.”
“Carrie Lam is declaring war on us with this law. If she wants a war, bring it on,” said Emma, 22, a protester in jeans and a black surgical mask. “She thinks she’s the queen of Hong Kong but now she’s only Xi Jinping’s puppet. If we burn, she burns with us.”
“Of all the available options, you can always trust the government to choose the worst one,” said June, 32, who said she didn’t usually protest but had stepped out of her office to join the crowds. “They have no idea how to de-escalate the situation and I’m afraid of what will happen next.”
Charles, 38, an office worker in a buttoned-up shirt and a surgical mask, said he planned to wear a mask every day from now on.
“People will find creative ways to circumvent it, like saying they’re sick or the air quality is bad or they’re wearing religious dress,” he said. “Giving herself and the police more power won’t restore order. It’ll only lead to greater uprising.”
An editorial at the Hong Kong Free Press on Monday pointed out that the authorities have a habit of announcing all use of force by the police, including the use of lethal ammunition, was fully justified before the incidents are investigated, which fuels the long-standing protest movement complaint that the police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves.
“We may hope that the shooting will still be investigated. But the person handed this tricky job will undertake it knowing that his superiors want a particular result. Producing the wrong outcome may well blight his or her prospects in the force,” the editorial noted.
Protest marches continued throughout the weekend despite bad weather, roadblocks, railway stations closing, tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon. Widespread vandalism against businesses owned by mainland Chinese or supportive of Beijing was reported.
“Hong Kong police attempt to murder. Our gov is killing us,” read banners carried by the protesters, alluding to the two police shootings thus far. The previous protest chant of “Five Demands, Not One Less” was updated over the weekend to mention six demands, the new demand being “disband the police force.”
Nearly all of the demonstrators wore masks in defiance of Lam’s mask ban, in some cases resorting to improvised face coverings such as paper bags with eye holes or even their own braided hair. Pro-democracy lawmakers tried to file an injunction against the mask ban, but it was rejected by the Hong Kong High Court on Sunday.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) became involved in the protests for the first time over the weekend, raising a yellow warning flag over its East Kowloon Barracks and shining spotlights on demonstrators. The yellow flag was meant to warn protesters that they could be arrested for shining laser pointers on the barracks, but dozens of them did it anyway.
China’s state-run Global Times hammered the protesters with a string of editorials over the weekend, denouncing them as “black-clad Western puppets” on a “rampage.”
The Global Times complained that Western media and politicians found time to denounce Lam’s mask ban but none to condemn the violent actions of the “rioters.”
“Washington only views the Pearl of the Orient as a political tool designed to contain the Chinese mainland. If the protesters could reach a proper level of sobriety, then they would easily see through such amateur tricks,” the Global Times sneered.
Another editorial castigated the “rioters” for attacking “civilians,” including journalists covering the protests.
“Rioters have continued assaulting ordinary Hong Kong residents who hold different political views or oppose their illegal acts as the hit-and-run mob reached a new height of lawlessness,” a third Global Times editorial said on Monday, accusing the protest movement of “depriving the public of free movement” by blockading streets.
“Beating ordinary people who do not agree with rioters has become a common sight amid illegal demonstrations. The Global Times reporters witnessed that if passerby holds different views or gets into a spat with protesters, he may end up being brutally thrashed,” the paper claimed.