On Monday, November 18, 2019, thousands of protesters came to the southern tip of Kowloon in Hong Kong to demonstrate and eventually try to break the police cordon around the occupied Polytechnic University where hundreds of students held out. This is a personal account of the day, written with a lot of adrenaline.
Starting in the late morning hours, first hundreds, later many thousands flocked into the districts Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei und Hung Hom, where the occupied Polytechnic University is situated that was sealed off by the police. The Student Union declared that there are still 500 protesters inside, two thirds of whom are students of the university. Several attempts to escape by larger groups last night and this morning failed, others were successful. Calls appeared on the movement’s message boards to come out in the support of those trapped inside.
In Hung Hom, groups of demonstrators march down the road shouting: “Save the students!” Barricades built the night before are enforced and enlarged, with large bamboo-sticks from scaffolding, rubbish bins, and paving stones which are also spread on the street in the form of “mini-Stonehenges” in order to stop police vehicles. Many high-school and university students are here, the core of the “black bloc,” but also older people, men and women, most of them with face masks. Several people from the South-Asian community that lives here are also present.
In a side street hundreds of protesters form a supply chain that takes plastic cable ties for the construction of barricades and umbrellas against the attacks with tear gas grenades and rubber bullets to the front line. On Chatham Road, a special police unit, the “Raptors,” shoots with rubber bullets, other cops follow with tear gas. Most of them shoot at face level. It should not remain the only dose of teargas that hits me today.
A man from the South-Asian community asks me if I have ever seen this before. Yes, I tell him, for instance, during the squatting movements of the 1980s and 1990s in Western Europe, but at that time the “black bloc” was sustained and supported by the political left, here a much bigger movement fights against an authoritarian government – and is supported by large parts of the population. He nods. Then he points to a young women who is building a barricade and says, he could not understand how the police could attack such young people.
Later, in Tsim Sha Tsui, hundreds of demonstrators gather. Like elsewhere, many of them dig up paving stones, smash them, and throw them onto the road. The police tries again to disperse the crowd with tear gas. My attempt to get further up north by the subway MTR fails as the station is hectically evacuated. Back upstairs on the street, I realize why: In front of one exit protesters have started a fire, one of the many attacks on the MTR as the movement accuses the company to collaborate with the police.
Meanwhile, roads are blocked in the whole region, either by protesters or the police. I have a break and meet a young left-wing activists, many of whom support the movement. She tells me, among other things, that her mother works in a hospital. Policemen were admitted there after being attacked off-duty by people from the protest movement who had tracked them down and beat them up. The mother and a large part of her colleagues stand behind the movement and think the policemen deserved it. The question of violence against the state is obviously discussed differently over here.
I set off again and reach Jordan where thousands stand or sit on the shopping street Nathan Road, many exhausted from the clashes. In the middle of the street, cases of Molotov cocktails are prepared, the most important weapon against the police attacks. A stretch of more than one kilometer got “stonehenged” here, and almost every intersection is barricaded.
Like in other places of street clashes, dozens of journalist in yellow vest are present. Some of them hold cameras up and live-stream the confrontations on the internet or on cable TV. A friend told me that many older supporters of the movement don’t dare to join demonstrations, but through the live-streams they could see what their children go through.
I continue to Yau Ma Tei where the police suddenly attacks with tear gas from the front. I run into a side street but here, too, police units advance. The crowd retreats a little but when the police stops it comes back – the usual pattern of the street battles here: mostly young people with gas masks in the first row hold opened umbrellas up as a protection against the rubber bullets. They slowly advance until people from the second row throw Molotov cocktails towards the police lines which shatter in front of them.
I take a detour and see a water cannon and an armored car, both built by Mercedes Benz. They were used on Nathan Road, but later I hear that their tires, actually, got ripped – real German quality. The street battles continue until late into the night, and the police make many arrest, too.
When I finally head home, the sounds of Hong Kong’s uprising resonate in my ears: the cracking of paving stones, the splattering of Molotov cocktails, the bang of fired tear gas grenades and rubber bullets, the police sirens – and the angry screams of the protesters.