By Adriana Leila Rocks
— With their faces hidden beneath masks and goggles and carrying umbrellas drawn like weapons, black-clad student protesters at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) endured the brutal sun today. They crouched under boogie boards held like shields, making Molotov cocktails in soda bottles, which they hurled over barricades made of gym mats and trash cans. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and sponge grenades.
In reaction to the death of a student protester last week, a city-wide strike was scheduled to begin Monday morning at 7 a.m. Protesters blocked roads across Hong Kong, and the Mass Transit Railway started closing stations before 8 a.m.
The exact circumstances of the death of the protester are disputed. He fell from a carpark last week and the police originally denied involvement but later acknowledged they were on the scene. The death fueled increasing outrage among members of the pro-democracy movement.
This morning in Sai Wan Ho, a neighborhood on the east side of Hong Kong Island, an officer shot a protester point-blank. In the past, police refrained from firing live rounds and instead opted for rubber bullets. This is no longer the case.
A number of universities canceled classes Monday, and at CUHK students set up barricades at entrances to the school. Around noon, police gathered at the gates of the central campus proceeded to fire tear gas and rubber bullets.
Around 1 p.m., students moved toward another group of riot police on a bridge on the south side of campus, embodying their “be water” slogan — signifying the protesters’ ability to “go with the flow” and adapt to changing situations with the help of the new media technologies such as live maps, Instagram stories, and Telegram groups that ease communication and spread news on the front lines. They erected barricades at several points on the campus road.
Medical and nursing students wearing neon vests adorned with red and white crosses brought supplies for protestors that included saline solution, gauze, water bottles, protective gloves, and saltine crackers. “It should be a long fight today,” said a nursing student serving as a volunteer. “We will continue tomorrow and the next day because the police refuse to leave, and we need to protect the university.”
According to another protester, if students hadn’t erected roadblocks the police would have already come in. “We don’t really know what they want,” the student said.
Around 2:30 p.m., protesters scattered as police fired tear gas directly into their midst and stormed the front lines. Grass close to the bridge caught fire but students quickly put it out with a hose.
Rumours are circulating among students that the police have warrants to search dorms at CUHK, but the warden of the college has denied the claim. CUHK has cancelled all classes for Tuesday and all of the school entrances remain closed — stranding students hoping to return to campus after leaving for the weekend. The police have also arrested several students.
As the sun set, the atmosphere was glum and students fretted about the security situation at their campus. “To me, the university is a safe zone,” one said. “Even if it’s dangerous outside we could always come back to this ‘safe house.’ We can’t let the police in. We have to protect the right to freedom of speech.”