HONG KONG — “Dirty cops.” “Triads.” “Fuck your mother.”
Directed at riot police who now make almost daily appearances on the streets, these chants have grown common in Hong Kong, a typically peaceful city known for its food and shopping.
But the chants capture an important shift happening here. Nine weeks into massive pro-democracy protests that were sparked by a proposed extradition bill that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China, protesters have found a new enemy.
Overwhelmingly, Hong Kongers remain angry and worried over Beijing’s encroachment on their semi-autonomous state, but they’ve acquired another foe along the way: the city’s police force.
Protestors say the police have increasingly used excessive force in recent weeks while turning a blind eye to violent actors, most notably triads, Hong Kong’s organized crime syndicates, believed to be behind a brutal attack on pro-democracy protestors in July.
On Monday alone — the day a citywide strike was called and protests were held in at least a dozen places — the police fired 800 canisters of tear gas, adding to the 1,000 they’ve already used since the demonstrations began.
It was the most violent and chaotic day in Hong Kong yet, with 150 arrests, 250 flights canceled, and eight out of 12 metro lines disrupted.
The public's rage continues to grow, as Hong Kong internet users share incident after incident of what they say are examples of the police’s abuse of power.
Tensions spiked Sunday after photos circulated online showed police arresting a female protester whose lower body was exposed as she was being subdued. The police later explained her skirt was pulled down as she struggled against officers, leading Amnesty Hong Kong to say “protesters' clothing is not an excuse for the police's sexual violence.”
It’s not just protesters who are complaining about police violence — it’s journalists, too. On Saturday, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said “officers obstructed, used violence and even teargas” against the media. To express their discontent, journalists made noise by tapping their pens during a police press conference on Tuesday.
Despite mounting complaints against the police, there's no indication they'll change their tactics. Many fear that when the crisis is eventually resolved, the broken public trust will linger for years.
“[The government] has the police firing at people, beating them up, and charging them with rioting,” said lawmaker Hui Chi-fung. “Now the thing is that people are very mad at the police. They don't trust the police at all.”
Cover: Protesters ignite a fire in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on Aug. 4. (Laurel Chor for VICE News)