HONG KONG — Saturday night was solemn here as tens of thousands gathered to mourn the death of a protester — the first official casualty of the months-long pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Some took the stage in Tamar Park to sing psalms and invited the crowd to pray as a long line of mourners carried white flowers and laid them on the stage. Others simply clung to each other as the crowd held a minute of silence for Alex Chow, a university student who died on Friday.
“Everyone is feeling sorrow right now. We are grieving,” said Ben, a 22-year-old protester who sat huddled in the grass listening to the ceremony. “I’m not optimistic about the development. I think there will be more violence, more injuries, and maybe deaths.”
“I don’t see any signs that things can improve,” he said.
As many quietly mourned, protest chants shifted from “Hong Kong, add oil” — a common rallying cry meaning keep up the fight — to “Hong Kongers, seek revenge.”
Chow, who was 22, fell from the third floor of a parking garage where police were dispersing protesters last Monday. He died after several days in the hospital in a coma.
The exact circumstances of the fall remain unclear. Early news reports said that Chow was running from tear gas that police had fired in the car park. But CCTV footage does not show the fall, and police revised their initial timeline of events at a recent press conference.
Chow’s death only served to deepen the mistrust between Hong Kong residents and the police force as violence and arrests have continued to mount. More than 3,000 people have been arrested since the protests began in early summer. Amnesty International, among other human rights organizations, have accused the police of indiscriminate, unnecessary force, including beatings and torture of people while in detention.
“I think the police should have some responsibility,” said 31-year-old Crystal, who was at the vigil on Saturday. “The government should do something, the police should be punished,” adding that she was disappointed by the government’s lack of response so far.
Unlike other recent gatherings, police had issued a letter of no objection for Saturday’ event, allowing it to move forward legally. The night largely stayed peaceful. Organizers estimated 100,000 people attended the vigil.
The protests have stretched for more than five months, but both sides remain intractable. While the government has scrapped a bill that first sparked the large-scale protests in June, it has not made any movement to meet the protesters’ other demands, which have remained consistent, including an independent inquiry into police violence.
Several who spoke with BuzzFeed News showed their weariness on Saturday, admitting they were starting to lose hope.
“I’ve stopped thinking about the demands. No police [officer] has suffered any consequences,” said a protester who identified himself as Charles and has been working as a first aid responder in recent protests. “I just feel a little numb now.”
Like other protesters, Charles said he doesn’t consider Chow’s death the first of the protest movement. In mid-June, a protester died by suicide, just before 2 million people marched through the streets of the city. His yellow rain poncho has been a frequent symbol in the demonstrations since. And in October, two protesters were shot with live rounds but survived.
Just before the vigil broke up, thousands held up the flashlights on their phone. And for a few minutes, Tamar Park was calm, just dotted with white lights.