A student protester was shot with a live round by police in Hong Kong

The scene in Hong Kong on China’s National Day.
The scene in Hong Kong on China’s National Day.
Image: Reuters/Susana Vera
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A protester was shot in the chest by a police officer with a live round as clashes broke out across Hong Kong today (Oct. 1). The protests were timed to mark China’s National Day as a “day of mourning.”

A Hong Kong police spokeswoman said that officers faced an attack from a group of armed protesters, and that an officer fired once in self-defense. She also said the protester was an 18-year-old, and had been shot “near the left shoulder.” Earlier, the South China Morning Post reported that the protester, believed to be a high school student, had been taken to hospital for surgery.

Video circulating on Twitter, reportedly of the shooting in question, shows a riot police officer shooting at very close range. The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) the police officer fired as the protester approached him with a metal bar. It’s unclear what kind of ammunition was used.

At previous protests, which have broken out across Hong Kong since June, live rounds were fired as a warning to protesters who clashed with police. This is the first time a protester has been hit.

Hong Kong went to great lengths to prevent a mass protest on the 70th anniversary of China’s founding, which saw president Xi Jinping tell the country: “There is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation.” As the day progressed, over a quarter of Hong Kong’s subway stations were taken out of service, and one entire line connecting key parts of the city separated by water was shut down. Even so, there were protests in the city’s central business district and a number of other areas around the city, and protesters smashed windows, including of a government office. The shooting took place in the afternoon in a northwestern district called Tsuen Wan.

In Beijing, meanwhile, there was a massive military parade, featuring giant portraits of past Chinese leaders carried aloft. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam attended the festivities, with many journalists noting she looked notably happier than she has in months. But for many Hong Kongers, it was a day to mark how separate they feel in the nation they became a part of in 1997 after the end of British colonial rule.

Compared with the Umbrella Movement, which five years ago focused on bringing in a democratic election for the city’s leader, these protests, which began in opposition to a bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China to be tried, reflect a city in existential crisis.

After years of young activists being disqualified from running for the legislature, and the protest leaders of five years ago prosecuted, many question how long Hong Kong can survive in its current form: namely, how can it reconcile its freedoms and deeply ingrained protest culture within an authoritarian nation? Recent protests feature Hong Kongers sharply distinguishing their character from China’s—calling the country “Chinazi,” and drawing attention to re-education camps in Xinjiang where Muslims are detained, as well as the treatment of minority Christians.

Riot police detain an anti-government protester during a demonstration at Wan Chai district, on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2019.
Riot police detain an anti-government protester during a demonstration in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district.
Image: Reuters/Susana Vera

Last month, Hong Kong’s government met one of the protesters’ five demands—agreeing to withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the protests. Protests have dwindled in size in recent weeks, but clashes between protesters and police have become more intense. Many protesters say they won’t leave the streets until their other demands are met, which include an independent inquiry into police tactics. The shooting of the student could leave people here angrier than ever, amid long-running allegations of police brutality going back to the protests in June.