In the sixth consecutive week of protests in Hong Kong that began in opposition to a much-maligned extradition bill, a peaceful rally today (July 14) turned violent as scuffles broke out between protesters and police inside a shopping mall. Police said they arrested 37 people in the wake of the protest, and that 11 officers had been injured.
The protest was located in the suburban Shatin area of the city—the second to take place in the New Territories region of Hong Kong, far from the financial and shopping hubs that hosted earlier marches. Organizers say it drew 115,000 people, while the police claim attendance was far lower at 28,000.
The demonstration began peacefully, with people marching for a few hours shouting slogans and weaving through heavily residential neighborhoods alongside a river. However, the atmosphere quickly became tense after police deployed pepper spray, which galvanized crowds to deliver supplies, including helmets and goggles, to the front lines, demarcated by barriers set up by protesters to block police.
Following a standoff that lasted several hours on the street, police attempted to clear crowds off the roads by sending in riot police, eventually pursuing protesters who hadn’t dispersed from the scene into the shopping mall, New Town Plaza. There, protesters hurled objects including umbrellas, helmets, and bottles at the police, who were at one point vastly outnumbered. After reinforcements arrived, officers in riot gear charged up escalators to the various floors of the mall, using batons and pepper spray as they beat their way toward protesters. People were also seen throwing objects at police officers from upper levels of the mall.
The demonstration follows a pattern that has become familiar over recent weeks, with largely peaceful marches ending in tense and even bloody scuffles between police and protesters, with weapons such as pepper spray and batons frequently deployed by police. The protest today, however, differed in that the scene of the violence shifted from the streets to the mall, which is flanked by some of Hong Kong’s biggest residential housing complexes. A popular place for shoppers and diners, particularly on the weekend, New Town Plaza houses major international brands including Lululemon, Chanel, Uniqlo, and Zara.
In a Facebook post, shopping mall management sought to distance the mall from the police operation, writing in their statement (link in Chinese) that they had not called the police nor brought the police onto the premises. Many took to the comments section to express their anger and concern that the mall had allowed police to conduct clearance operations without prior warning to, and protection of, customers.
In video footage, some protesters were seen surrounding and beating a plainclothes police officer. In one instance, a journalist appeared to intervene to prevent protestors from inflicting further harm on the officer, whom they had pushed down an escalator and who had fallen to the ground.
The Hong Kong government said that it condemned what it said was violence by protesters against police that were an affront to the rule of law.
Today’s demonstration followed a procession in the morning by journalists condemning what they said were police attacks on members of the press. Another protest took place yesterday (July 13) in the Sheung Shui neighborhood, which borders mainland China, that also turned violent.
Protesters’ demands today included the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent investigation into police brutality, the release of all those arrested in earlier protests, the resignation of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, and the retraction of the term “riot” to define earlier protests.