As of yesterday, the anti-China, pro-democracy protests raging in the city-state of Hong Kong have entered into their fourth month, and things are only getting worse.

What started as a citizen demonstration protesting a proposed bill that would allow the Chinese government to extradite lawbreakers to mainland China for trial quickly grew into a full-on uprising against Chinese control. Although the bill was finally withdrawn and shelved indefinitely at the beginning of last month, the protests continued (For FreedomWire’s full analysis of the withdrawal of this bill, CLICK HERE).

As the protests have dragged on and tensions continue to rise, clashes between citizens and police have grown increasingly violent. Thus far, Hong Kong police have only employed nonlethal methods of crowd-control, like tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.

However, this past Tuesday, hostilities finally came to a head.

For the first time since the protests began back in June, police opened fire with live rounds against demonstrators, leaving one man in critical condition.

Police Vs Protesters

In a shocking event captured on video and subsequently broadcast around the world, a group of masked, brick-throwing protesters armed with umbrellas (used to deflect tear gas canisters) chase down a group of police officers. When one officer is separated from the rest, he is quickly swarmed, knocked to the ground, and beaten with fists and blunt objects.

Another officer arrives, weapon drawn, and the protesters scatter. In the chaos, one man swings at the officer’s hand with a metal pipe, and the officer fired on him at point-blank range, striking him in the shoulder. Additional officers respond to the scene, drive off the remaining protesters, and the injured man is taken into police custody.

The injured protestor, later identified as 18-year-old high school student Tsang Chi-kin, was shot in the shoulder with a hollow-point round. The bullet narrowly missed his spine, punctured a lung, and lodged itself dangerously close to his heart.

According to local sources, Tsang was transported to a nearby hospital in critical but stable condition and has continued to receive treatment. Although police have placed him under arrest, there is at this point no word on whether they will be pressing charges.

The Community Responds

In statements released in response to the shooting, Hong Kong police commissioner Stephen Lo defended the officer’s actions, calling it a “legal and reasonable” act of self-defense.

This, understandably, has generated a significant backlash, creating further division in an already fractured community. Tsang’s fellow protesters are outraged at the officer’s actions and have quickly made Tsang a powerful symbol of resistance against police brutality. Those sympathetic to the government’s cause, on the other hand, have labeled Tsang as a common thug, pointing out that he was masked, armed, and actively assaulting an officer at the time of the shooting.

Regardless of which side the issue is viewed from, it’s clear that the problem is not going away. What started as a protest against a singular piece of legislation has grown into a massive movement, and it will likely not end until all the protesters’ demands have been met.

Chinese Involvement?

However, since the shooting, Hong Kong citizens have begun to suspect an ulterior motive for the increase in police aggression. Rather than blaming the protesters for the new violence, many are laying the blame at China’s feet.

On Tuesday, the same day as the shooting, China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the formation of the Chinese Communist Party. In mainland China, this day is an important holiday, and ensuring that the celebration was uninterrupted by demonstrations was likely a priority for the government.

Even according to expert analysts, the increased aggression may be a new tactic designed to put down the uprisings before the reputation of China’s government could be further tarnished. The protests have now been going on for four months, and there is no end in sight. The Hong Kong government is under incredible pressure to end the protests and restore China’s control of the city-state.

Although the remainder of the day passed without any further tragedies or major rioting, this shooting may have been the spark that starts a much larger fire in Hong Kong.

So, what will the future hold for Hong Kong and its citizens?

Only time will tell.