HONG KONG (AP) — Holding up posters saying “Don’t shoot our kids,” Hong Kong residents and schoolmates of a teenage demonstrator shot in the chest by a police officer rallied Wednesday to condemn police actions and demand accountability.
The shooting Tuesday during widespread anti-government demonstrations on China’s National Day was a fearsome escalation of Hong Kong’s protest violence. The 18-year-old is the first known victim of police gunfire since the protests began in June. He was hospitalized and the government said his condition was stable.
The officer fired as the teen, Tsang Chi-kin, struck him with a metal rod. The officer’s use of lethal weaponry inflamed already widespread public anger against police, who have been condemned as being heavy-handed in quelling the unrest.
“The Hong Kong police have gone trigger-happy and nuts,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said.
Mo, who said she repeatedly watched videos of the shooting, echoed what many people expressed.
“The sensible police response should have been to use a police baton or pepper spray, etc., to fight back. It wasn’t exactly an extreme situation and the use of a live bullet simply cannot be justified,” she said.
More than 2,000 people chanted “No rioters, only tyranny” as they filled an open-air stadium near Tsang’s school in Tsuen Wan district in northern Hong Kong on Wednesday night. Many held posters reading, “Don’t shoot our kids” and held an arm across their chest below their left shoulder — the location of Tsang’s gunshot wound.
Several other peaceful rallies were held elsewhere, with protesters vowing not to give up their fight for more rights including direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.
But pockets of protesters vented their anger. Black-clad youths smashed ticket machines and vandalized facilities at two northern subway stations. In Tsuen Wan, hundreds marched along the streets. Some smashed Bank of China teller machines and others removed metal railings and dug up bricks from pavements to build barriers, blocking traffic.
Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of people, including students, sat crossed-legged outside Tsang’s school chanting anti-police slogans. One held a hand-written message condemning “thug police.”
Schoolmates said Tsang loves basketball and was passionate about the pro-democracy cause. A student who wore a Guy Fawkes mask and declined to be named because of fear of retribution said Tsang was “like a big brother” to him and other junior students.
“During the protests, we would feel safe if he is around because he was always the first to charge forward and would protect us when we were in danger,” the student said.
“I vividly remember him saying that he would rather die than be arrested. What an awful twist of fate that it was he of all people who was shot by the police.”
Many students felt that firing at Tsang’s chest, close to his heart, was an attempt to kill him. Police said Tsang has been arrested despite being hospitalized and that authorities will decide later whether to press charges.
More than 1,000 office workers also skipped their lunch to join an impromptu march in the city’s business district against the shooting, which police have defended as “reasonable and lawful.”
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said late Tuesday the officer had feared for his life and made “a split-second” decision to fire a single shot at close range. He denied police had been given permission to shoot to kill.
Responding to questions about why the officer shot at Tsang’s chest, instead of his limbs, Deputy Police Commissioner Tang Ping-Keung said Wednesday the officer had fired at an area that could immobilize the youth quickly.
Tang said the officer’s action was in line with international procedures, but that police would conduct an in-depth investigation into the shooting.
Videos on social media of the shooting showed a dozen black-clad protesters throwing objects at police and closing in on a lone officer, who opened fire as the masked Tsang came at him with a metal rod. Just as another protester rushed in to try to drag Tsang away but was tackled by an officer, a gasoline bomb landed in the middle of the group of officers in an explosion of flames.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons Tuesday as usually bustling streets became battlefields. Thumbing their noses at Chinese President Xi Jinping, protesters ignored a security clampdown and fanned across the city armed with gasoline bombs, sticks and bricks.
Hong Kong’s government said the widespread rioting Tuesday was orchestrated, echoing Beijing’s stance, and called on parents and teachers to help restrain young protesters.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab criticized the shooting as “disproportionate” and some U.S. lawmakers also joined in the condemnation.
The Chinese foreign ministry office in Hong Kong accused British and American politicians of condoning violence and crime. It called the rioters the “greatest threat to Hong Kong and the common enemy of the international community.”