It’s impossible to determine who in the Umbrella Movement shed the first drop of blood.
But after police began to resort more frequently to violence, many protesters have been subjected to an onslaught of batons and suffered bleeding and lacerations to their foreheads.
As a consequence, their clashes with the police to defend the protest zones have also intensified.
News commentator Wong On-yin (王岸然) was at the scene of widespread confrontations between protesters and police officers in Admiralty on the night students mounted a failed siege of the Central Government Offices.
He told the Hong Kong Economic Journal “it will just be a matter of time before we see the first fatal victim”.
From its conception, Occupy Central’s organizers stressed that the movement must be carried out in a peaceful manner — otherwise violence would surely result in more violence, sending everything into chaos.
Yet at least some protesters now face the threat of violence unflinchingly.
They believe there is a price to pay when taking part in any social movement, and they are aware that fatal clashes may break out when a movement enters its endgame.
“Even though Chinese troops won’t be deployed, when policemen are acting like gangsters and some hardcore protesters insist on staying on, the worst-case scenario of loss of lives is more imminent than we think,” Wong said.
He said he heard a rumor last month that Beijing, the Hong Kong government and members of the pan-democratic camp had reached a secret agreement that the protest movement must be brought to an end no later than early December.
At the time, Wong chose to laugh it off, but recent developments – from the de facto crackdown by police in Mong Kok in the guise of assisting bailiffs, to the pitched battles on the night students tried to storm government headquarters – have led him to think there is substance to the rumor.
It’s a ticking time bomb.
A forced clearance of the protest zone in Admiralty is now almost a sure thing, and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying warned last week that the process may not be peaceful, as “those who choose to stay may turn to more radical acts when the movement is about to end”.
After the court granted an injunction barring occupation of roads in Admiralty, police are likely to mount operations as early as Wednesday to disperse the occupiers – whose number may be at an all-time low — as otherwise more people will join the street occupation during the Christmas and New Year break, and any conflicts at that time will be more difficult to manage.
Wong said those who wish to have a glimpse of the little utopia in Admiralty, with its numerous exemplars of pro-democracy public art, should seize the final opportunity before Harcourt Road is cleared for traffic.
Some observers worry that far from a shift in policy by the hard-line Chinese leadership to soothe the city’s discontent, the shape of things in post-Occupy Hong Kong can only deteriorate.
Beijing will further tighten the reins and give the unpopular chief executive even more support.
Wong said that in the post-Occupy era social movements will give way to revolution, and more people may support the idea of an independent Hong Kong.
Confrontations will become more brutal, he predicted.
Setting aside questions about who’s right and who’s wrong, Wong said that just a month ago, when police tried to remove road barricades in Mong Kok, most protesters raised their hands to show they were all peaceful.
But since the police began to use a much higher level of force, as seen in the battle to stop students from entering government headquarters, protesters have stepped up their level of resistance too.
Homemade helmets and shields made of wooden planks in which nails were embedded were seen in recent scuffles.
History shows when people are backed into a corner and have no other choice, their resistance can explode into violence.
Wong warned that if there are fatalities, the first one could be among the police.
He urged police officers on the front line to spare some time to reflect on whether to engage in violent action, since “they are merely tools used by politicians”.
The government can certainly clear the protest zones in Admiralty and Causeway Bay. But after that, people who are not willing to submit will wage endless rounds of “flash mob” protests, anywhere and at any time.
Police will be unable to deal with a challenge that is unbounded by space and time.
When all the people refuse to cooperate, no government can withstand the pressure.
In fact, if only 7,000 residents — one-thousandth of the city’s population — confront the tyranny of the police with the tyranny of the people, the police will be unable to control the situation.
After all, the force — excluding its members policing other parts of Hong Kong on a routine basis — has only about the same number of officers it can deploy to deal with protests, Wong said.
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