At around 1.30am last night, I was making my way to the overpass above the tunnel on Lung Wo Road, having spent the previous hour covering the scene from the protesters’ side of the road below. I came across volunteers asking people if they need masks and goggles. I had a mask in my bag already and didn't really want to have clunky goggles over my glasses, so I declined.
I was actually on my way towards the bridge above Connaught Road Central to snap a few pictures to finish my coverage of the evening. However, not too soon after declining the goggles, I heard yelling from the other side of the tunnel so I went over to check it out.
It seemed like there was a small group of police officers being surrounded by protesters. I’m not sure what the officers were doing so far up the hill on that side of the pavement, as most were stationed in the tunnel or across the street. The crowd was growing very fast with lots of yelling, and soon I was sucked into the middle of it.
I could see the police officers had their shields and batons out and there was a lot of aggressive pushing from both parties. The protesters had their arms up and some were yelling not to let the officers leave. But while their arms were up, in a peaceful gesture, their bodies were pushing forward. Other officers tried to make their way in to try to rescue their colleagues. From a quick look, I would say the ratio of protesters to officers was easily 10 to 1. A majority of them were young people, I would say university students.
After about 10 or 15 minutes in the crowd, I decided to climb higher to get a better shot. And then that’s when the first pepper spray was used. I didn’t see where it happened, but I smelled it, and as soon as that scent hits your nose, you know it’s pepper spray. You get this strange, irritating sensation in your nostrils that just makes you want to sneeze. The crowd dispersed for a bit but then they were back, surrounding the police again.
I could see police officers trying to move down the hill, and the protesters kept walking towards them. I made my way into the crowd again. I saw umbrellas being opened in the front and not soon after, I smelled that distinct smell of pepper spray again.
I ducked my head as soon as I saw the white dots of foam landing on other people around me. I was not sure how many shots were sprayed but when it was over, I had spray on both my arms, as well as my hair. Luckily it missed my eyes and mouth. I don't remember hearing any warnings or seeing any flags before pepper spray was used. But it was pandemonium, with lots of yelling and hands in the air.
I didn't ask for help at first, as I didn't feel anything burning. But after taking a few more pictures, my forehead began to burn. A first aid worker came around, asking who got hit, and I responded. He tried to wash my forehead on the spot but then I was moved further away to a better lit spot away from the scene. There, I saw other protesters being treated.
The first aiders got me to sit down, then one of them told me to lie on my side so that the pepper spray being washed off wouldn’t go into my eyes. The worker poured water on my forehead as others handed me tissues to dab it dry.
After resting for about 10 minutes, I was able to take in the scene. There were many first aid workers around ready to help. They spoke gently and were very accommodating to requests. This was a very much different scene from what I had just seen and experienced moments before.
It had not been the same peaceful protest I witnessed in Mong Kok at the beginning of October. This was not the same as on Connaught Road Central where I’ve walked several times during the protests.
There was panic. There were diversions, and tricks like walking around as a huge group for no particular reason, or dropping coins on road in front of cars to stop them from moving. And the anger. There was so, so, so much anger.
There was constant yelling and hurling of insults towards officers. I am very much against police brutality. I firmly believe the police should protect the people and not hurt them. And I definitely don’t believe they should be dragging people into dark corners and beating up while they are handcuffed.
But when there is so much friction and pressure, everybody has a breaking point. Yes, maybe the police should have a higher tolerance because of their jobs, but they are people too. I am not here to say who is right and who is wrong – it is not my place. There were protesters yelling for people to stay calm and not cause trouble. But the mob mentality was in full force last night. There were plenty of loud chants of “dark” (corrupted) police and “Triad”. It feels completely insane to look up from the road to see that you are completely surrounded by angry protesters raining angry insults at you. Every little thing turns into a screaming match that can potentially explode.
While I did not enjoy the burning sensation from the pepper spray, I can’t say I am mad at the police for using it. It was a petrifying scene to be caught in the middle of. And it seemed to be spiralling out of control very quickly. Was it right to use pepper spray? I can’t say. All I know is that after they sprayed it, a path was finally created and the police were able to make some progress down the hill.
My mom always taught me there are two sides to every story, and as a journalist, you’re supposed to tell both sides without bias. I really hope conversations will be had soon. It is the only way this can be solved. I’m not sure how or when this will end, but I hope Hong Kong and its people, whichever side they are on, stay safe.
Afternote: While the pepper spray didn’t hurt on the scene, I felt the full effect at home. When washing my hair to get the rest of it out, one errant flick splashed some water into my right eye and I was in excruciating pain for a good five minutes. After constant flushing with water, I was able to wash it out and see clearly again. So hats off to protesters who get hit and continue to show up. I would not want to go through it a second time.