A Hong Kong policeman shot a masked protester in the torso on Monday morning, igniting clashes across the city and renewed fury towards the force as crowds took to the streets to block roads and hurl insults at officers.
The shooting, which was broadcast live on Facebook, is the latest escalation in more than five months of pro-democracy protests that have engulfed the international financial hub.
Footage showed a police officer drawing a pistol in the district of Sai Wan Ho as he tried to detain a masked person at a junction that had been blocked by protesters.
Another unarmed masked individual then approached the officer and was shot, quickly falling to the ground.
Seconds later, two more live rounds were fired as the officer scuffled with another masked protester who fell on the floor. Both were detained by officers.
A pool of blood could be seen near the first man whose body initially appeared limp, although he was later filmed conscious and even trying to make a run for it.
The second man was conscious, shouting his name to reporters as he was handcuffed.
Hong Kong police said one person was struck by a bullet while hospital authorities said a 21-year-old man was admitted with a gunshot wound.
The semi-autonomous Chinese city has been upended by 24 consecutive weeks of huge and increasingly violent rallies, but Beijing has refused to give in to a movement calling for greater democratic rights and police accountability.
Monday’s shooting has only added to the tinderbox atmosphere.
“I don’t understand why the police has to use that kind of brutality to hurt innocent people. I think it’s just out of sense, out of control,” a 22-year-old IT worker, who gave her surname Chan, told AFP as she joined angry crowds in Sai Wan Ho after the shooting.
The city was already reeling from the death on Friday of a 22-year-old student who succumbed to injuries sustained from a fall in the vicinity of a police clearance operation the weekend before.
After a weekend of clashes and huge vigils, Monday’s chaos began with small groups of masked protesters hitting subway stations and roads during the rush hour commute.
But as footage of the shooting went viral, the protests snowballed.
During the lunchtime break in Central, a downtown district that hosts blue-chip international conglomerates and luxury retailers, police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters, many dressed in office attire, chanting “Murderers” and “Triads.”
Many expressed anger over the shooting that morning.
“He was not carrying any weapon, what threat could he pose on the officer,” a 29-year-old office worker, who gave her first name Elaine, told AFP as fellow office workers coughed and wretched from the acrid clouds.
Tear gas and rubber bullets were fired in multiple districts throughout the morning, including at two university campuses and in multiple districts across the harbour.
One video circulated by protesters on messaging channels from Kwai Fong district showed a police officer trying to drive his motorbike multiple times into protesters who had gathered on a road.
Unpopular police force
Monday’s shooting is the third time protesters have been shot with live rounds by police.
With no political solution on the table, officers have been left to battle violent protesters and are now loathed by large chunks of the deeply polarized population.
Police have defended their tactics throughout the summer as a proportionate response to protesters who have embraced throwing bricks and petrol bombs as well as vandalizing pro-China businesses and beating opponents.
But an independent inquiry into the police has become a core demand of the protest movement, with public anger fueled by weekly videos of controversial police tactics and aggressive interactions with locals.
In one incident which sparked uproar, a police officer on Friday evening shouted at protesters that he and his colleagues were “opening a bottle of champagne” after the death of the student.
The force said the officer was later reprimanded for his language.
Both Beijing and Hong Kong’s unelected leader Carrie Lam have rejected an independent inquiry, saying the city’s current police watchdog is up to the task.
But last week, in an embarrassing setback, an international panel of experts appointed by authorities said the watchdog did not currently have the capability or resources to carry out such a huge probe.
The watchdog is due to release a report in early 2020 and in a statement on Monday said the panel’s views should not have been published on Twitter by one of its members.