Moving into 18 consecutive weeks, the Hong Kong protests are not slowing down.
Within the past week, we’ve seen two of the worst clashes between pro-democracy protesters and the Hong Kong police.
With China’s 70th Anniversary now in the past — with many thinking that may have been the penultimate day — the battles in Hong Kong move into new territory.
The Hong Kong protests are an ongoing urban warfare battle with the Hong Kong government, police and Beijing. Tear gas and Molotov cocktails have been violently exchanged from police and protesters for sometime now, but it’s in recent weeks we’ve seen the further use of bullets fired.
No incident has been more extreme than the live round fired at point-blank range into the chest of a secondary school student protester in the town of Tsuen Wan on October 1. This is a new low for the Hong Kong police and the protests overall because it’s evidence things are getting worse.
ON THE GROUND
On Sunday, September 29, I experienced this firsthand, being shot twice by rubber bullets.
The protests had escalated into the evening time. Earlier in the day, riot police had tried to disperse the demonstrations by firing tear gas at around 2.30pm in Causeway Bay, which now is the major battleground. This only added fuel to fire, quite literally, and set the tone for the rest of the day.
Clashes ensued relentlessly, from sporadic battles on Wan Chai Immigration Tower Bridge — that saw one Indonesian reporter take a projectile to the eye — to intense fires that swarmed the side streets of Hennessy Road. It was down Fleming Road, a street that leads into Hennessy, that my personal experience unfolded.
FIRES ON FLEMING ROAD
On the ground in Wan Chai, perched onto the flyover section of Fleming Road over Gloucester Road, riot police were stationed like troops going to war. Their additional shield was made up of thick fumes of tear gas, almost impossible to see through. By then, slithers of fires had turned that pocket of Wan Chai into a reddish colour.
It looked almost like a real-life painting of a city being overthrown, but for many, it was an urban-looking-hell.
Battles had been to-and-fro. Molotov cocktails were heaved high into the direction of the police in the hope of blocking their inevitable charge.
Several protesters took their turns, as I crept closer to take some frontline footage. With my Canon around my neck used by my right hand, my left hand was holding up my smartphone and gimbal device, recording in parallel.
I manoeuvre my way in-between fellow reporters, who including myself, were all wearing high-vis jackets glowing in the dark maroon setting of the evening. Protesters were throwing from an angle to my right, while some were in and around the centre. With the thick gas ahead, I didn’t expect the riot police to blind fire.
THROUGH THE THICK GAS
Then I heard the sound of multiple rounds, and this time it felt closer than ever. I felt a fast jolt to my abdomen. It was then I realised, I’d been hit by a rubber bullet. Automatically I leaned down, trying to realise what had happened. I turned around to get away from the firing line, with concerned protesters and medics running over to me.
“I’m OK, I’m OK”, I insisted.
MORE FIRE AHEAD
The shot was unexpected as I was keeled down momentarily. I knew I was fine but it that wasn’t the end of the drama.
While I was bent to the side, another projectile found its way through. This time, landing on my forehead, knocking me sideways a little. Luckily, my helmet caught it and deflected it away. Yet, an inch lower and the bullet would have connected between the eyes. By this time, worry crept in. It was apparent the riot police were firing at their own will, sporadically and aimlessly.
By then, my eye goggles had come loose, and the next wave of tear gas took its toll quickly.
Stinging through the eyes and with the worry of more sporadic fire to come, I spotted a shop entrance across the street. I made a dash for it before lying down to get my bearings, and get treated from medics.
Taking this in the space of fewer than two minutes, the tear gas was the real pain. The real concern then, and now, is the growing number of careless firing from the riot police.
As the day wore on, it had become apparent that I wasn’t the only reporter who had been injured. From tear gas canisters, pepper spray, and other projectiles, there had been several casualties from the frontline.
NOT ALL CLASHES
And yet there has been unity and beauty in these. It’s obvious to see the dedication of the millions of Hongkongers who have come out and shown their support. We’ve seen re-enactments of the Baltic Way, we’ve witnessed signs of “Free Hong Kong” on hillsides, and launch of the new Hong Kong anthem, Glory of Hong Kong.
THE PROTESTS CONTINUE
All demonstrations, both large and small have been non-stop. Both sides are tired, with constant clashes and street games of cat and mouse. There have been mistakes made, while rival pro-Beijing gangs and triads have often popped up to add chaos to the cauldron.
Now, after the clashes on China’s National Day, the Hong Kong police have condemned October 1 as being one of the most violent days to date. Previously, there was a point where it had been questioned whether the protests were losing steam, but going by the previous week, it appears they are entering a whole new territory of violence.
Tommy Walker is a Hong Kong based journalist, travel writer and social media correspondent