As the People’s Republic of China celebrates the 70th anniversary of its foundation, police violence in Hong Kong escalates to a new level: a 18-year-old schoolboy is shot at close range and barely survives his injuries. This incident takes place as people in Hong Kong continue to protest to demand more guarantees for their freedom. While the controversial extradition law to China has been scrapped, others demands remain unanswered.
More violence expected as a teenager is shot at close range
The incident happened on October 1 when a riot police officer holding a long shield appeared alone nearby a bus stop at Tsuen Wan district, a place where triad members, violent protesters and riot police officers had been chasing each other. Spotted by protestors, the police officer was rapidly surrounded and used his shield to protect himself against rods and hammers pointed at him. In no time, an estimated 10 riot police officers charged in with guns and shot one of the protesters at close range. The victim had to undergo a 4-hour operation but managed to survive. Reportedly, the bullet hit the left lung and a piece of bullet shell was just 3 centimeters away from his heart.
It is important to note that all police officers were carrying less lethal weapons including the one who opened fire. Yet the Hong Kong police force justified the shooting as an act of self-defense. Here is a full video of the events:
On that day, confrontation between the police and protesters spread in at least 13 locations, as the news about the gunshot became known. This led to a massive response from the riot police which fired more than 1400 tear gas canisters, 900 rubber bullets, 230 sponge bullets, 190 bean bags and 6 live rounds of gun. All together 180 protesters have been arrested.
Two other gunshot incidents were captured on video footages on Youtube. One video shows five police officers surrounded by protesters who throw objects at them. Later, a police vehicle came to their rescue, yet instead of leaving the scene, six police officers jumped out of the car to pick a fight with the protesters and a gunshot was then fired. The other video shows protesters throwing objects and Molotov cocktails at the riot police.
A prophecy fulfilled: real bullets will be fired
In the past few months, Hong Kong police has avoided lethal weapons. Yet exasperation at the lack of governmental response to demands, combined with alleged abusive use of force and in certain cases, of torture by the police have radicalized certain protesters.
At the same time, pro-establishment hawks have been openly advocating for the use of lethal weapons. For example, the Junior Police Officers’ Association, Hong Kong’s biggest frontline association issued a statement around mid September, urging its members to use appropriate weapons in situations where they believe their lives are at risk. Back in July, the Association, known for its pro-Beijing stance, dehumanized the protesters by calling them “cockroaches” in an official statement. It also criticized Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung for an apology he made over the absence of police force during the Yuen Long mob attack on July 21. It has been one of the strongest voices against independent investigation, a demand which has the support of 79 percent of respondents in a public opinion survey conducted by Public Opinion Institute in August.
On September 30, police authorities organized a press conference to show a Telegram message according to which some radical protesters were planning to kill officers, set fires and bomb shopping malls. Yet protesters challenged the veracity of the alleged intelligence by pointing out several problematic aspects: the user account, group and channel accounts were all registered in mainland Chinese pinyin, rather than the traditional Cantonese romanization. Moreover, the majority of the location marks in the attack map were wrong. Nevertheless, the police “intelligence” was widely reported on major TV channels unlike the protesters’ version of the story.
Beijing hails Hong Kong police hero on social media
In order to support the Hong Kong police and justify its actions, even if violent, Beijing has reached for its favorite tool in its propaganda box: online narratives glorifying new heroes defending the Motherland.
People in Hong Kong had been warned that no protest was given a permit on October 1. To underline the message, Beijing also picked 10 Hong Kong police officers to represent their city at celebrations of the National Day in the Chinese capital. One of them is Lau Zaak Kei, who is famous for pointing his projectile gun at protesters during a clash on July 30.
As demonstrated in two separate videos, the incident took place when three police officers were caught in a confrontation with protesters holding batons and umbrellas. Lau fell down and picked up his long gun to point it at protesters.
The gun-pointing act was later packaged into a viral post entitled “The bald-headed police officer who raised his gun could never imagined that he has touched the heart of China” (举起枪的光头警长，没想过会感动中国). The post, to which illustrations and alleged quotes by Lau were later added, was curated by the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times news outlet.
Lau has since turned into an icon for “Support Hong Kong police campaign” overnight. As explained by the Chinese social media observatory What’s on Weibo, the idea of supporting Hong Kong police force goes hand in hand with the idea that Hong Kong is, and “always will be,” a “part of China” as indicated in the following poster:
The campaign also translates into the non-virtual world: on several occasions since August 2019, pro-Beijing mobs wearing blue T-shirts with a “I love Hong Kong police” slogan, and often coming from the border province of Guangdong in mainland China have attacked Hong Kong protesters and civilians, as is described in this tweet:
Just now at #FortressHill—
Group of blue-clad gov supporters attacking innocent citizens who were just passing by. Attackers are kicking and even use their China National Flag to hit pedestrians.
— #AntiELAB Fight for Hong Kong (@Fight4HongKong) September 14, 2019
While officially restricted by a duty of political neutrality, police officer Lau has opened a Weibo account where he actively comments on the Hong Kong protests, praises pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho for mobilizing “support Hong Kong police mobs”. Ho was spotted shaking hands with members of triads during the Yuen Long mob attack and some believe he might have played a role in staging the attacks.
The 10 police officers who arrived in Beijing on September 30 were part of a much larger Hong Kong delegation yet were prominently portrayed in news coverage. Below is a Twitter version of the glorification of the ‘heroes’:
— BeijingEye (@BeijingEye) September 30, 2019
On the morning of September 30, ten Hong Kong police officers who were invited to join the celebration of the National Day in Beijing visited the Great Wall. It is the first visit made by the bald-headed SIr Lau, also known as Lau Zaak Kei. He thus fulfilled his “National Day dream”. On the Great Wall, the Hong Kong police officers were waving the five-star national flag and shouting out to the camera: “Hong Kong police says hello to mainland China compatriots!” #Hong Kong Police #Bald-headed Lau Sir #the Great Wall of Badaling
If the shooting at close range of protesters becomes a “heroic act of the nation”, who will now be able to stop the circle of violence in Hong Kong?