Hong Kong police slammed as 'trigger happy' after teen shot
Police chief defends officer's use of force as students protest at wounded student's school
Heads bowed and dressed in black, schoolmates of a teenage demonstrator shot at close range in the chest by a Hong Kong riot officer condemned police tactics and demanded accountability Wednesday.
The shooting Tuesday during widespread anti-government demonstrations on China's National Day marked a fearsome escalation in Hong Kong's protest violence. The 18-year-old is the first known victim of police gunfire since the protests began in June. His condition in the hospital was described by the government as stable on Wednesday.
The officer fired as the protester, Tsang Chi-kin, struck him with a metal rod. His use of lethal weaponry is sure to inflame widespread public anger about police tactics during the crisis, widely condemned as heavy handed.
"The Hong Kong police have gone trigger happy and nuts," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said Wednesday.
Having repeatedly viewed video of the shooting, Mo said: "The sensible police response should have been using a police baton or pepper spray, et cetera, to fight back. It wasn't exactly an extreme situation and the use of live bullet simply cannot be justified."
Watch as one protester expresses her disappointment in the Hong Kong police:
More than 2,000 people crowded into an open-air stadium near Tsang's school in Tsuen Wan district in northern Hong Kong on Wednesday night. Many held posters reading, "Don't shoot our kids" and chanted "No rioters, only tyranny."
Several other rallies were also being held simultaneously in two malls and other areas, with protesters vowing not to give up their fight for more rights including direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability.
Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of others, including students, sat crossed-legged outside Tsang's school chanting anti-police slogans. Some held an arm across their chest below their left shoulder — the location of the teenager's gunshot wound. One held a handwritten message condemning "thug police."
"When we go to fight, we are always the egg and they are the wall," said a student who gave only his surname, Wong. "We are just bullied by them."
Many students felt that firing at Tsang's chest, close to his heart, was an attempt to kill him. Police said Tsang has been arrested despite being hospitalized and authorities will decide later whether to charge him.
More than 1,000 office workers also skipped their lunch to join an impromptu march in the city's business district against the police shooting.
Police defend 'split-second' decision
The police chief defended the officer's use of force. Commissioner Stephen Lo said late Tuesday night that the officer had feared for his life and made "a split-second" decision to fire with a single shot at close range.
"It was the attacker who decided to come so close," Lo said. "He had no choice, he could only use the weapon that he had available."
Responding to questions about why the officer shot at Tsang's chest, instead of his limbs, Deputy Police Commissioner Tang Ping-Keung said Wednesday the officer had fired at an area that could immobilize the youth quickly.
Tang denied police had been given permission to shoot to kill. He said the officer's action was in line with international procedures, but that police would mount an in-depth investigation into the shooting.
Local TV stations showed two officers with bloodied faces pointing pistols as protesters who sought to spoil the Oct. 1 anniversary of Communist rule fought pitched battles with riot police.
"These turned out to be very dangerous riots," Hong Kong's government said in a statement Wednesday that described protesters who carried out widespread acts of vandalism as "the mob."
It claimed rioting was "planned and organized" and called upon parents and teachers to help restrain young protesters.
"What the society does not want to see is students being stirred to break the law," it said.
U.K. calls shooting 'disproportionate'
Video that spread quickly on social media appeared to show the officer opening fire as the masked teenager came at him with a metal rod, striking the officer's shooting arm. Taken by the City University Student Union, it showed a dozen black-clad protesters throwing objects at police and closing in on the lone officer who pointed his gun and opened fire. The protester toppled backward onto the street, bleeding from below his left shoulder.
Video from Oct. 1 shows a Hong Kong protester being shot by police:
As another protester rushed in to try to drag away the wounded youth and was tackled by an officer, a gasoline bomb landed in the middle of the group of officers in an explosion of flames.
U.K. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab criticized the shooting as "disproportionate." Some U.S. lawmakers also joined in the condemnation.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry office in Hong Kong slammed British and American politicians and accused them of condoning violence and crime. It called the rioters the "greatest threat to Hong Kong and the common enemy of the international community."
Riot police fired tear gas in at least six locations and used water cannons in the business district as usually bustling streets became battlefields. Determined to thumb their noses at Chinese President Xi Jinping, protesters ignored a security clampdown that saw nearly four dozen subway stations closed.
Chanting anti-China slogans and "Freedom for Hong Kong," tens of thousands of peaceful marchers dressed in mournful black also demonstrated along a broad thoroughfare downtown in defiance of a police ban. Organizers said that rally attracted at least 100,000 people. Police didn't give an estimate.