By Yan Zhao
Hong Kong high school student Joseph says he needed 14 stitches to close a head wound caused by police batons during last year’s pro-democracy protests, an experience that fuelled his desire to become a lawyer as he tries to sue the force.
The 18-year-old’s injury came from one of the most polarising nights of the protest movement.
On August 31, after hours of clashes with protesters, riot police stormed a train at Prince Edward subway station and repeatedly clubbed those inside.
Police said frontline protesters were using the station to change out of their black “protest uniforms” to escape being identified.
But the images of terrified people being repeatedly struck were captured on video and fuelled hostility towards the police.
“My head wouldn’t stop bleeding,” Joseph said, recalling how he was arrested and then spent 48 hours handcuffed to a hospital gurney while being treated.
He was never charged with any offence.
“I thought police brutality was something on the news or Facebook Live. I’d never imagined that would happen to me, and that the injustices in society would affect me directly,” said Joseph, asking only his first name be used.
He described himself as a moderate protester who attended peaceful marches and eschewed violence, adding that he was making his way home on the subway that night when police rushed in.
Images of the incident often flash through his mind, he said, and when he talks about what happened his heartbeat quickens.
The scars on his head are now hidden by hair, but they serve as a constant reminder.
With the help of legal aid and sympathetic lawyers, Joseph has launched a civil suit against the police to claim damages, but has made little headway.
The identities of the officers involved have not been revealed, and the coronavirus outbreak delayed proceedings as courts closed down.
No police officer has faced sanction for their actions that night inside the station — despite images and video circulating widely on the internet.
Police reject allegations of brutality, saying officers deployed appropriate force to meet the tactics of protesters who were becoming increasingly violent after months of clashes.
But rights groups disagree, saying multiple instances of excessive force have been documented against non-violent protesters or people who had stopped being a threat.
One core demand of the movement has been an independent inquiry into police tactics, something both Beijing and Hong Kong’s leaders have repeatedly rejected.
Last month, the city’s police watchdog cleared the force of any misconduct and no officers have faced major sanction or reprimand over the protests.
Joseph’s experience has since given him a career focus – he has just finished university entrance exams and now hopes to study law.
“After experiencing the movement, I felt like I could do more for society,” he said.
“One year on… police still haven’t been sanctioned and held responsible, but we shouldn’t blot out the possibility that justice can be upheld.”