Rioters in Hong Kong have been fixated on giving the People’s Republic of China an “unhappy birthday present” for weeks. They succeeded. But the cost was very high; a teenage rioter was shot after swarming and battering a fallen police officer with what appeared to be a metal rod. In total, 180 people were arrested for offences ranging from rioting, unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers or possession of offensive weapons.
In Beijing, thousands of performers took part in a stunning, highly choreographed display in Tiananmen Square reminiscent of the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony. In the Special Administrative Region (SAR), Hong Kong was in chaos, with fires set, subway stations and government buildings vandalized, shops and stores looted, and protesters clashing with police and residents across multiple districts in street battles.
The semi-autonomous city has been embroiled in unrest for months. Despite some 6,000 officers reportedly deployed to the streets, the hit-and-run tactics of radical and violent rioters saw police playing catchup with the unrest. The rioter’s strength lies in their ability to pop up at unexpected locations, cause mayhem, and then disappear as police arrive to confront them. Multiply this across the metropolis and by dozens of rioter cells of 15-30 and it is easy to understand how great a challenge the HKPF face.
As tens of thousands of people took part in an unauthorized but largely peaceful protest march on Hong Kong Island, smaller demonstrations across Kowloon and the New Territories quickly turned violent. During a confrontation in Tsuen Wan, an officer fired a live round in self-defence while parrying a blow from a metal rod, the first-time lethal force has been used in more than 100 days.
Police said the officer fired his weapon out of concern for both his own safety and that of a colleague who had been pushed to the ground and set upon by protesters with verified video, including an analysis conducted by the New York Times, buttressing this argument.
While media has largely shown the rioter pacified with an oxygen mask over his face, just minutes before, he was in a rage. Seconds before being shot, he had attempted to trample and bash a police officer lying prone on the ground, thereafter swinging wildly in close quarters at the officer who would subdue him. Were his bat a few centimetres higher, he could have hit the officer in the head. By all accounts, the officer had reason to fear for his and his colleague’s lives.
In a similar case in the United States, a police officer who was carried against his will on the hood of a car during a routine traffic stop was found not guilty for using deadly force to subdue the driver, whom he killed following 15 shots into the windshield, stopping the vehicle. Police the world over are permitted to use deadly force if their lives are endangered; that the rioter in Tsuen Wan was merely wounded in the shoulder is a sign of the HKPF’s professionalism.
Police had earlier said they were expecting violence across the city, warning it could be “very, very dangerous”, while masked protesters said that “in the face of tyranny, we can only fight as if it is our last battle”.