HONG KONG — Things took a turn for the worse in Hong Kong this past weekend. Police took unprecedented action on protestors, using water cannons to disperse crowds and later shooting their first live round since protests began 11 weeks ago.
Scenes of conflict between protestors and police are becoming increasingly common. And now, some youngsters believe that fighting back with force is the only way to get the government's attention.
“For us, if we don't use radical ways to fight against the government, [then] the government will still see us as nothing,” says 20-year-old Jen, who asked to use a pseudonym due to the heightened security risk.
Jen has just moved into an apartment on Hong Kong island with five friends, people she met through the protests. Each juggling their shift work with time at the protests, Jen and her friends use their cramped, two-bedroom apartment as a base to prep for the weekly protests and store their weapons, away from prying parental eyes.
Rick, a 24-year-old small business owner, was beaten by a police baton on July 12 and moved in shortly after. But he says he’s not driven by vengeance: “My motivation is something needs to be done. A certain amount of violence is justified. Peaceful protests are not working.”
They believe that Hong Kong is at a critical cross-road, and unless they take a stand now they will lose their freedoms, and it will become like every other Chinese region.
”It’s our golden time,” says Jen. “If we don’t fight now, then we will lose everything.”
Dressed from head to toe in black, their faces concealed with masks, the flatmates leave home armed with radios, ready to update other protesters about police movements and the progress of the front line.
This weekend riot cops moved swiftly to contain a crowd that has rarely appeared so angry. They hurled petrol bombs, empty glass bottles, and bricks at police officers, who have been slammed by protestors and rights groups for their heavy-handed security techniques.
It’s hard to find any police officer willing to speak in Hong Kong — many fear losing their job, or being harassed by enraged Hong Kongers. But one community police officer did speak anonymously, saying she sympathized with the demonstrators’ demands and was worried about the response of her colleagues. “The police are using excessive force,” she said, “at one point I was thinking about whether I should resign or not.”
But she also thinks that sometimes the protesters go too far. Speaking about the live round incident last Sunday she said: “When police are in life threatening situations it’s reasonable for police to use force. I think for both sides — protesters and police, it’s the first time they’re dealing with such a situation. Panic is probably the right word.”
But the protesters have little sympathy for any officers of the state. ‘If you’re trying to harm an innocent person that’s a no for me,” Rick said. “But if you’re trying to harm police that’s reasonable.”
And with Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam refusing to address the five key demands of Hong Kong’s citizens — including the withdrawal of the extradition bill that inspired the demonstrations — and her insistence on clamping down on protesters, this is a situation that is bound to get worse before it gets better.
This segment originally aired August 27, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.