The Slatest

Hong Kong’s Political Unrest Is Getting More Violent

A man tries to escape the grasp of police officers who are tearing his shirt during a protest in a Hong Kong shopping mall.
Police officers tear a protester’s shirt during a protest in a shopping mall in Sha Tin, Hong Kong. PHILIP FONG/Getty Images

As anti-government protests have now spread to far corners of the city of Hong Kong and expanded their demands, they have increasingly being met with violence. Still, demonstrators have refused to evacuate the streets.

This past week has seen several clashes that have ended in bloodshed. Last Saturday, residents scuffled with police during a protest near the border. The next day, an initially peaceful demonstration at a shopping mall in the Sha Tin region devolved into all-out brawls between police and protesters that landed 28 people in the hospital, including 10 officers. Officials, clad in full riot gear, had arrived in the evening and sprayed tear gas and struck protesters with batons, which pro-democracy organizers say agitated crowds into striking back. Cops were seen dragging people away and video emerged of protesters kicking a policeman who was laying on the ground.

The situation has since become even darker. Sunday saw continued confrontation on the streets, after some demonstrators vandalized the Hong Kong liaison office of the Chinese government and police responded by firing their yet another round of tear gas and rubber bullets. Now, in the latest incident, hordes of protesters were returning from a march in the Yuen Long train station when a mob of masked men, uniformly wearing white T-shirts, launched a violent attack. The Washington Post obtained footage of the incident, and reported that men used rods, batons, and clubs attached to Chinese flags to beat protesters and random civilians to the ground.

Jerming Zhang, A 16-year-old student and first-aid volunteer who was at the station, told the New York Times, “It was like a stampede,” adding that “they hit people indiscriminately, smiling as they beat them up.”

The government at first only rebuked the vandalism at the liaison office, charging that this act “blatantly challenged the national sovereignty.” Only later on Sunday evening did Lam’s administration issue a statement on the Yuen Long station attacks, explaining that violence perpetrated by “some people congregated at the train station” was “unacceptable.”

So far, few world leaders have come out in defense of Hong Kong. On the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China, British Foreign Secretary—and candidate for prime minister—Jeremy Hunt offered up support of the protesters and remarked that “It is imperative that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people, are fully respected.” President Trump has stayed silent, having reportedly promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that his administration would not speak out in support of the protesters while trade talks with China are ongoing. Other heads of state have also remained mum.

In Hong Kong, the police and an affiliated watchdog group are allegedly going to be investigating officials’ use of excessive force at an early June 12 incident, but protesters complain that the watchdog is not independent and say it can’t carry out an effective investigation.

On Sunday, demonstrators chanted “Shame” outside the police headquarters building, and many protesters have decried their unresponsiveness to the train station attacks, noting that Hong Kong has one of the highest police-to-citizen ratios in the world.