Even as we put on our gas masks and walked towards the throng of “black shirts”, the youths who are the driving force behind this anti-government protest movement in Hong Kong, I knew this was going to be a hectic day.
Seven organised demonstrations and a plethora of splinter demos looking for trouble – it was guaranteed.
We rounded the corner of one of the main roads in Kowloon, now empty of traffic, and the first rounds of tear gas passed over our heads.
From the start it was clear the protesters wanted trouble and the police were in no mood for compromise.
The riot police had taken hold of a junction and were firing round after round of tear gas at the protesters. On a tannoy the senior officer in charge told the protesters to disperse. Behind him a banner warned tear gas was going to be fired and another read: “Disperse or we will fire”.
They didn’t, and they did.
Tactically though, and it was clear as daylight through my gas mask, the police were in a bad position. They were already surrounded by thousands upon thousands of protesters and they were defending themselves from three routes into the junction.
After nine weeks of violence that has been getting worse at every contact, the protesters have not only upped the anti, they have clearly researched and modified the tactics of urban fighting.
They are basically kids and they aren’t armed, but there is a hardcore who have a command and control structure, they have communication skills through social media, and they have a huge support base of followers who don’t want to be at the front line but are right behind them when it goes nasty.
From the three routes to the intersection the protest groups edged forward.
The police fired round after round of tear gas, rubber bullets and their so called “bean bag” rounds, which is a touchy feely description for something that feels like a punch in the kidneys. But the protesters, hiding behind umbrellas, plastic boxes and even a suitcase, simply ignored it, pushing forward.
The point is, the police found themselves defending their position from three routes. Then it changed. The two flanks pushed in and suddenly withdrew, and the main frontal group of protesters surged forward.
Tear gas filled the air, but it was punctuated by the sound of rocks and bricks smashing onto their shields and crashing all around us.
A group had got into a park behind our position and started throwing rocks. One crashed through hitting me on the arm.
We were pushed aside by the crowd as they charged forward and suddenly the tear gas was fired into our position.
Sky producer, Dominique van Heerden, took a full round onto her thigh. Swearing profusely she followed me around a corner and I could see she was covered in blood on her arm.
I said we should withdraw and sort her injuries. “It’s not my blood, it’s yours!” she said pointing at my arm, and ran forward to film the protesters smashing windows in a police residential compound.
The police were now in protection mode. They had lost the street and were defending themselves as brick after brick came crashing in.
They backed their way down the street as the protesters pushed forward. By now the less battle hardened or courageous had joined the front line, sensing that the immediate danger of being actually hurt had subsided.
The police withdrew into the accommodation compound which was a green light for the protesters to start throwing bricks and stones at the windows of the buildings, which are quite clearly also private residential properties.
Some started smashing traffic lights while others smashed paving stones for weapons.
None of this is good.
There has been violence across Hong Kong. More demonstrations are planned, more confrontation will happen.
But what we saw has changed things. The police lost.
It is hard to imagine there won’t be a reaction.