Image of demonstrators in Mong Kok

I just got back from a trip to Hong Kong. I’m sure many of you are up-to-date on the current situation, but I’d like to provide some context and personal experience. I’m very passionate about this issue and happy to engage, so let me know what you think.

In February of this year, Hong Kong legislature proposed a bill allowing extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to China. Many were upset because this could allow China to exert its will on Hong Kong and suppress free speech by trying activists in a rigged Chinese judicial system instead of Hong Kong. Many world leaders expressed their disapproval of the bill. In June, the bill came close to passing and enormous protests erupted in the city. In response, Carrie Lam (Chief Executive of Hong Kong) suspended the bill, but did not withdraw it. Peaceful, large-scale protests were met with tear gas and beatings from the police deeming them “illegal assembly.”

Outrage at the police brutality, along with the understanding that Carrie Lam intended to revive the bill once protests died down, led protesters to propose five demands:

  1. Full withdrawal of the extradition bill.
  2. An independent commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality.
  3. Retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters.”
  4. Amnesty for arrested protesters.
  5. Dual universal suffrage, meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive.

The fifth demand in particular is something that is baked into the Hong Kong Basic Laws as a future goal after Britain handed over Hong Kong to China. This has been a contentious issue as China claims Hong Kong is “not ready” and has pushed the date back several times. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive is currently appointed by the Chinese government.

Hong Kongers have been marching since June, and conflict has only escalated. It seems that the government is unwilling compromise, and believes the only way to shut down the protests is by force. They have increased their use of tear gas and rubber bullets and have caused many injuries and even deaths among protesters.

Carrie Lam enacted a law banning facial masks in public gatherings as well - these masks allowed protesters to avoid identification and the most harmful immediate effects of breathing in tear gas. This was met with more resistance, protests, and open defiance. Thousands of canisters of tear gas used by the police have created harmful effects throughout the city, making face masks a necessity for protesters. Even I had to use a face mask as a tourist to protect myself from tear gas once.

Recently, the terror by police has escalated. There has been a string of suspicious deaths of protesters, including a drowning by a swimmer, and people “falling” from high buildings with bruises from police batons. Authorities continue to quickly rule these deaths suicides while refusing to release CCTV footage. These deaths have sparked more vigils and marches.

Police have been even more brazen with violence, cornering and beating protesters in the elevators of their own homes. They have caused bone fractures and head injuries by improperly aiming rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at the heads of people on the streets. They have even shot and injured protesters with real guns. All of these are just examples of what has been documented by video and fueled more marches.

In most recent news, the police have stormed University campuses without warrants, and the students have taken to defending their campuses against the police. This has been the greatest use of tear gas to date and I fear greatly for the students that the police will not stop at crowd control measures once they gain entry.

Now, I want to talk about my personal experiences with the protests when I was in Hong Kong. I was only there for four days, and avoided protests for most of it. They seemed to be localized and would at worst cause the shutdown of a few subway stops. Interestingly enough, I never saw any police doing normal duties. I only saw riot police, a dozen at a time, standing menacingly in full gear.

On Monday, protests erupted throughout the city, as protesters attempted to disrupt Hong Kong. Professionals showed their support by marching in Central during their lunch break. This was the same day that police began their attack on universities. I went hiking to avoid the craziness but saw what demonstrators looked like when I got back. They was really just normal people standing around. Many of them wore masks to protect themselves from the tear gas. They were blocking intersections and moving objects into the road to obstruct police vans. Altogether it seemed impressively nonviolent and peaceful. I went to a restaurant and when I left, the intersection had been heavily tear gassed. It took me six blocks before I felt like my eyes weren’t on fire. Even so, there were still somehow people around who had evacuated to nearby streets.

The thing is: the protesters are almost entirely nonviolent. It’s not like what you see on the news. It’s only when the police show up and attack them that some feel the need to defend themselves or at least slow the approach of the police. Most people support the protests and support the demands, at least to some degree. It seems like Hong Kongers, out protesting and otherwise, care deeply about their city.

I don’t think I can say the same thing about the police and authorities of Hong Kong. The police are using force that is far beyond excessive in an attempt to silence current and future protests. I firmly believe that the Hong Kong government and police force has the opportunity and responsibility to de-escalate the situation by scaling back their use of force. By not doing so, they are failing the people of Hong Kong. Currently, they are trying to throw tear gas and rubber bullets at the problem and hope it goes away. It’s not going to.

I hope I brought some context to the issue beyond the deluge of stories from the media. It’s important to me that everyone understands what is going on. By the way, the protests were only a small part of my trip. Most of it I was having a blast eating dim sum, seeing the city, and singing Karaoke. It just feels less pressing for me to make a post on how good Hong Kong dim sum is, compared to something like this.

With that said, I want to state my support for Hong Kong and ask you all to stand with me. Five demands and not one less!