Though it is rare for police to fully reject a request for a march or protest, security officials refused this week to sanction a protest march through Yuen Long, a congested industrial suburb where some residents have been associated with organized crime.
The gangs were accused of beating and bloodying customers, journalists and a lawmaker at the Yuen Long rail station July 21 leaving 45 people with injuries, some severe.
The march’s organizer, Yuen Long resident Max Chung, said it was important for Hong Kongers to stand against what he termed a terrorist attack and against a government that has seemed more concerned with silencing democracy protesters.
Yuen Long attacks
An hour before the Yuen Long event, a group of young people defaced the national emblem of China on a government building Sunday and then blocked a major tram route for hours, even after police showered the crowd with tear gas and fired rubber bullets. The standoff ended hours later.
Then, in Yuen Long, about 100 men dressed in white T-shirts used rattan sticks, pipes and other implements against people leaving and trying to board trains and fleeing through a shopping mall.
The next day, Hong Kong residents were enraged by a press conference when police officials admitted it took them 39 minutes to adequately respond to pleas for help. Only a dozen people, associated with triad gangs, have been arrested. Comments from the city’s embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, did not reassure the public that the thugs would be found and stopped.
Residents “think police aren’t protecting them anymore,” Chung said in an interview Friday. Before, “none of us had any plan to hold protest in Yuen Long, but they started to intimidate us.” His appeal to hold the march was denied.
Many young protesters spent Friday night buying safety equipment such as helmets, thick gloves and protective padding; the better to withstand police who may use batons and rubber bullets.
Some said they would go to Yuen Long to protect the residents or each other. Most everyone anticipated clashes with police. But they didn’t know what the plan would entail beyond marching.
“For me, going inside of Yuen Long is a way of telling them we are not afraid. Terror is an important method for gangsters, for controlling society,” says Brian, a 21-year-old undergraduate who lives in a nearby town. Most young people will not disclose their full name out of concerns of retribution. “We have to show the terrorists we aren’t afraid of them.”
Hong Kong is facing its worst political crisis since its handover to China in 1997. After millions of people marched twice in June against an extradition bill, now suspended, that would have permitted criminal suspects to be sent to China, many residents turned their ire on the police.
The force has used tear gas and rubber bullets twice against protesters who did little more than defy their orders with their bodies, umbrellas and plastic bottles. Clashes have left scores injured.
The Reuters news agency reported on Friday that Li Jiyi, the director of the Central Government Liaison’s local district office in Yuen Long, urged guests at a July 11 community banquet for hundreds of villagers to thwart democracy protesters. According to a recording of the event, Li appealed to those who attended to protect their towns in the Yuen Long district and to rebuff anti-government activists, the news agency said.
Local news reports said Yuen Long residents stockpiled food on Friday, while some residents left Hong Kong altogether, to brace for potential clashes at protests against mob violence at the district’s subway station a week earlier. Shops and public sports facilities were expected to close early and other services such as a clinic were expected to be shuttered.