The protests on 28 September 2019 promised to be a tough confrontation between police and protesters. Both parties knew it would be a “general rehearsal” for what would take place on October 1st, 2019, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. And we were not disappointed, that day became one of running battles between police and protesters.
An Anti-totalitarian march
True to form, this protest, which had been declared illegal had everything thrown at it to stop protesters from marching. MTR shut down several stations along the path of the protest, police checked cars and buses at cross-harbour tunnels, and police were even deployed in Causeway Bay to stop protests.
But this did not stop protesters from eventually congregating in Causeway Bay, and starting to march with worldwide flags.
Other protesters marched with “Chinazi” flags (a contraction of “China” and “Nazi”), where the Chinese stars formed a swastika.
As we marched forward, the protest kept giving signs of moving back and forth, people yelling instructions to each other or giving hand signals.
Soon, we came across the reason for those back and forth: a footbridge held by riot police across Hennesy road. The policemen were holding the bridge while being attacked simultaneously, from the direction of Admiralty and from Causeway Bay.
Despite being pushed back time and again, protesters once again ran under the cover of the footbridge.
This time, the protesters amassed objects and prepared to assault the footbridge through the stairs.
As they prepared to move on, riot police suddenly appeared from the footbridge shooting the protesters from above with bean bags.
Although called “bean bags”, the projectiles are actually small bags containing lead pellets. With their model being 2581 super-sock, it is expressly recommended in the manufacturer manual not to use these on head, neck or spine.
“However, it is stressed that shot placement rather than deployment range is the critical factor in determining the extent of injury caused. Shots to the head, neck, thorax, heart or spine can result in fatal or serious injury “A passage from the manufacturer’s manual.
In Wanchai, the police was shooting these projectiles, not only from above, but on the head of back of protesters who had only umbrellas as protection.
Despite being pushed back once, protesters came back and managed to chase the police from the footbridge. I followed them to their vehicles where they resupplied and came back up ready to face off once again.
The squadron then moved ahead, flags deployed and pushed the journalists back to the other end.
The unit commander decided to push himself back the journalists, yelling in Cantonese in his microphone and shining a powerful light into the cameras and the faces of the journalists.
The last assault
Despite being now in numbers on the footbridge, the police were unable to contain the waves of protesters who continued advancing from both sides, throwing bricks on the footbridge as they advanced.
The multiple shots of tear gas were immediately tackled by the protesters who, by now had grown quite proficient at extinguishing the canisters.
After each inroad, protesters collected themselves under their now famous umbrellas.
Other protesters gathered under the footbridge, being ready to carry their final assault.
And finally, all hell broke loose. Protesters made a final massive push from both sides at once, and pushed on to the footbridge, pushing back the police.
A disorderly retreat
Although shooting quite liberally their “less lethal” rounds, the police were eventually pushed back quite far.
Instead of following the crowd up the stairs, I decided to take an alternate route and go to where I knew the police were positioned.
The policeman recognized me as not being a threat, and motioned me into a safe area where I could continue shooting. As that happened, the protesters arrived about at the same area, and the policeman trained his riot gun on them, but did not shoot.
The police retired in disorder, and one of the policemen who kept going backwards instead of joining his comrades had to be dragged back by his commander. It seems some of the policemen lost control and got scared. And that was the cause of an incident I will talk of in a while.
Protesters threw a molotov cocktail from the footbridge, thus bringing back two officers to shoot tear gas grenades and rubber bullets.
In the end, the police unit climbed slowly into their vans as two policemen provided cover shooting their less lethal rounds on the footbridge.
After shooting several rounds (I guess emptying the five rounds of bean bags), the police pulled back.
You can also see the full scene in this video filmed as I was taking pictures.
A panicked departure and taking stock of the situation
As the police pulled back into their vans and left, some protesters came out to attack them with molotov cocktails.
Once the police left, protesters threw various debris across the road to cut traffic.
In the meantime, it appeared that while evacuating the footbridge, a police officer had shot a bean bag at eye level to an Indonesian reporter as can be seen in this video.
This tragedy, on the moment, was lost on me, as I was resting after running a lot around. But the running battles of Hong Kong were not yet over.
As now the road was free, frontliners decided to continue advancing towards Admiralty.
Tear gas galore
The movement forward was soon to become a full-blown retreat, as tear gas started raining on the protesters, from front lines of riot police near Pacific place and from cordons placed on the overhead footbridges.
Others, tried to battle tear gas as they could, sending it back towards the police lines.
Despite their efforts, the protesters had to pull back.
Nevertheless, before the onslaught and the advancement of the hated “raptors”, the special tactics squad, protesters pulled back without going to contact with the police. They did try to provoke the police with laser pointers.
Some “older uncles” were also there equipped for a fight:
To cover their retreat, in between a lull in the shots of tear gas, the protesters lit up a blaze in the middle of the road.
A long retreat, began, all the way to Causeway Bay. Along the way, protesters dug up bricks, erected makeshift barricades and prepared for the upcoming fight.
The barricades were prepared to make it difficult for riot police to pursue the protesters.
And meantime, the police kept progressing with a water canon this time.
Some protesters took “burn with us” quite literally, posing before a blaze.
Some protesters took a breather and checked their smartphones for news and situational awareness.
Others built a little Alamo around the Black Bauhinia flag and awaited nervously the riot police.
The Final push
Soon, this would all turn to chaos, as the police started shooting tear gas, flooding the whole area in acrid smoke.
Tear gas caused protesters to once again stampede around their own barricades…
The protesters formed another line of defence with umbrellas, with the same girl as previously, again shining her laser pointer on the police.
Police eventually cleared the various barricades and moved ahead spraying a blue dyed liquid on journalists, which I escaped only in the nick of time. We then found ourselves running along the rearguard of the protesters who were contending with a hail of tear gas.
As the things finally wrapped up, we finally got a closer look of the water canon. The police were ironically offering one ice cream for any protester who goes home by himself.
As we tried to find a way across the harbour, we came across a weird scene of three girls trying to challenge the water canon by carrying out a sort of dance taken from Doraemon.
Just a rehearsal
As things wound down, the realization came that the events of 29 September were but a rehearsal of what was to come on 1st October. And on first October, things got wild all over Hong Kong. Police attempted to capture protesters at each tunnel exit, by searching passengers on each bus. Our bus driver took the initiative not to stop at the cross-harbour station, avoiding us some difficult time with the police.
As I got home, nothing could let me think that two days later, I was again to face handguns in Wong Tai Sin.