Viral Image of Unarmed Protester Pleading With Gun-Wielding Police Draws ‘Tank Man’ Comparisons

August 27, 2019 Updated: August 27, 2019

Footage of an unarmed protester pleading with a Hong Kong police officer with his pistol drawn has prompted comparisons to the iconic “tank man” from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

During clashes between protesters and officers in the district of Tsuen Wan on Aug. 25, a middle-aged man in a gray tank top with nothing but an umbrella in his hand rushes before a group of pistol-wielding officers.

Moments earlier, a crowd of protesters armed with rods charged at a small group of police, who then drew their weapons prompting the protesters to retreat.

The man can be seen kneeling down before an officer with his pistol drawn, pleading with officers not to open fire. The officer then kicks the man, who falls on his backside.

During the melee, an officer firing a warning shot in the air, marking the first time live ammunition has been used since mass protests began 12 weeks ago. The weekend also saw the first time police deployed water cannons and armored vehicles to disperse the crowds.

Hong Kong police later defended the officer’s actions, saying it was a “natural reaction” in self-defense.

“They noticed people making moves on the ground … Our officer’s life was in grave danger,” senior superintendent Yolanda Yu, a spokesperson for Hong Kong Police Force, said at an Aug. 26 press briefing.

She added that it was difficult to differentiate for police to distinguish between violent and non-violent protesters.

“Six officers drew their service weapons because their lives were under threat… to protect themselves, other officers and people at the scene. One officer fired a warning shot into the air, which did not hit anyone,” Yu said.

Other senior police officers also backed the police on Aug. 26.

Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung said in a press briefing that the officers had acted with “courage and restraint.”

“Please try to put yourself in our officers’ shoes … That particular officer was holding a revolver and a shield. He could only use his feet to make him move,” Assistant Commissioner Terence Mak said, according to RTHK.

The police’s explanations, however, did not appease the protesters.

“So, kicking a human being on his knees became a natural reaction of Hong Kong police now?” said Lo Kin-hei, vice chairman of the Democratic Party in an Aug. 25 tweet.

The footage, which went viral online, drew many tributes from netizens applauding the man’s courage. Some users also dubbed him “pistol man,” a reference to the “tank man” who tried to stop advancing tanks during the violent crack on student protesters in China’s Tiananmen Square in three decades ago.

tank man
A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Changan Blvd on June 5, 1989. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener, File)

“What a brave man,” Hong Kong activist and singer Denise Ho said in a tweet on Aug. 26. “Greatest respect towards this fellow Hongkonger. Salute!”

Police arrested 86 people, aged 12 to 52, on various charges over the weekend, and fired a total of 215 tear gas bullets, 74 rubber bullets, 44 sponge grenades, and four bean bag rounds during efforts to disperse protesters.


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