In the last couple of months before December, riot police in malls became so frequent, that you would be forgiven for thinking about them with the term “Mall Cops”. But when the new mall cops peppered the Festival Walk mall, with a generous dose of pepper spray and pepper balls, they set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the closure of the mall.
What set this whole chain of events in action was another “renovation”, as Hong Kong protesters like to dub the vandalism of shops or restaurants not aligned or opposed to the movement. It is unclear who called the authorities, but quickly, a few undercover policemen took down some protests and started a fist fight with others. Their call for backup brought up a full-scale deployment of riot police in the mall, complete with shotguns and tear gas launchers.
The visual effect was something akin to a wave of stormtrooopers invading a mall with full gear. On week-ends, Festival Walk is an upscale place where people normally relax and enjoy their week-ends. All this in the midst of yells, slogans and various chants by protesters.
Riot police deployed inside the mall, finger on the trigger of their launchers.
Eventually, the police started clearing the mall, floor by floor, some of them with an itchy trigger on their pepper spray.
The push and shove and the passive resistance of protesters gave some serious pushing around.
While some commanders tried to reason with the protesters while pushing them back, some riot policemen just yelled and brandished their pepper spray.
Push and shove, riot police surged forward and kept pushing protesters and journalists towards the exit and the stopped escalators.
Peppering the mall
A team of Police Public Relations Bureau was present and helped to push journalists out of harm’s reach, but still, they were unable to prevent one policeman from spraying a first aider right into the head.
Protesters kept chanting and insulting the police. It was then that a policeman holding a pepper ball gun started shooting on the crowd downstairs.
For journalists and protesters alike, coughing and nasal irritation started.
I had to take out my gas mask and wear it, because of the discomfort. Still, the discomfort was minor, compared to tear gas, for example. Some of the residents however were quite angry at being targeted in this manner.
After a lot of heckling, in particular by a old lady with a speaker, riot police pushed back the remainder of journalists and protesters out of the mall.
After the clearance, we had some childish exchanges between protesters and police. One policeman in particular enjoyed taunting the protesters from above a flight of stairs.
Eventually, I went around and came up, and got my own unnerving experience with the riot police who found it funny to shine a torchlight into my eyes.
The same day, protesters went off on a rumor that someone was dead in a toilet. Having been there, I saw a protester being unwell and escorted to toilets by a first aider (presumably to have his face cleaned). But the confusion probably comes from the fact that in the meantime, the whole floor was being cleared by the police.
A few days later, another fallout showed up in the form of protesters setting fire twice to the Christmas tree as a revenge.
After this round of vandalism, the Festival Walk mall closed its doors definitely for repairs, remaining shut to date.
For the protesters, they had carried out their promise of making Hong Kong a city that burned with them. For the public, and leading up to the clashes of Chinese University and Polytechnic University, this mall violence (although triggered by the police) started becoming irritating.