For five consecutive weekends, the city of 7.4 million has been rocked by large-scale and occasionally violent protests, as demonstrators fight a proposed law that would allow individuals to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China.
On Sunday, seven people were hospitalized after violent scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in riot gear, after a largely peaceful protest against the bill in the residential area of Sha Tin.
This was just the latest in string of clashes, as mass demonstrations become the new normal across the city.
But what began as a protest movement against an unpopular bill has evolved to encompass a range of issues connected to mainland China’s perceived encroachment on Hong Kong life.
With protesters already talking about their next marches, there’s a lingering question: Where will the demonstrations go from here?
What are the protests about?
Protesters were concerned the bill could be used to seize government critics and send them across the border to face trial in a system with a 99% conviction rate and a history of political prosecutions.
On June 16, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam moved to suspend the bill, but stopped short of a formal withdrawal.
Protesters weren’t satisfied.
At other marches, protesters have called for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, a city that currently only has partial democracy.
“Those are underlying community issues that have been there for some years,” said Chinese University of Hong Kong politics professor Ma Ngok. “It was fueled by the recent momentum and empowerment of the whole movement.”
Distrust of the authorities has also become a central theme. Protesters want to see the police force made more accountable for its actions of recent weeks, which some see as unnecessarily brutal.
Where have the protests been held?
As the protest movement evolves, it is occupying a greater range of locations.
In June, the marches were centered around traditional demonstration spots on Hong Kong Island where the city’s financial district and government is based.
The three major marches on June 9 and 12, and July 1 saw protesters marching from the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay to the city’s Legislative Council — a well-trodden route for Hong Kong protests.
By taking the protests to more residential areas, organizers are hoping to make locals in those places feel they have no excuse not to join the movement, he said.
Protesters are already planning a protest later this month in Tseung Kwan O, another residential area in Hong Kong’s New Territories.
How are the tactics of protesters and police changing?
The major marches have attracted people of all ages — from toddlers riding on their parents’ shoulders to the elderly. The vast majority of these protesters are peaceful.
But there’s a small number of protesters who have been taking a different tack.
After each of the major marches, young demonstrators wearing helmets and face masks have clashed with riot police. At times, the protesters have thrown eggs and other objects at symbols of authority.
There also appears to have been an increase in some protesters’ aggression levels. On Sunday, a Hong Kong government spokesperson said protesters had violently assaulted police officers.
Experts agree: Hong Kong’s protests aren’t stopping anytime soon.
But John Burns, a professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong, said he didn’t expect the level of violence to escalate further — although he cautioned that if the minority who were using aggression against the police did escalate their actions, that could divide the protest movement.
Another turning point could come in August, when Hong Kong school resumes, said Ma, as the young protesters will have less free time.
“It’s impossible for us to conceive of one million people going onto the street each time,” he said. “(But) it is very easy to mobilize a few thousand people.
“I don’t know how the government is going to wait out everything without changing the current leadership.”