HONG KONG: Hong Kong police on Saturday said they had reprimanded an officer who shouted “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” as his unit dispersed reporters covering a pro-democracy rally the night before.
The officer was part of a team of riot police responding to protests on Friday evening in Yau Ma Tei district.
In a video posted online that quickly went viral, he could be heard saying “I can’t breathe” at the press as reporters were asked to move back.
He could also be heard saying “Black Lives Matters, here is not America”.
The phrase “I can’t breathe” has been embraced by racial justice protesters in the United States following the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
Floyd died after gasping the phrase as the officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Hong Kong’s police force said the officer had been reprimanded for his comments.
“The officer has been rebuked and reminded to always present himself professionally and enhance his sensitivity,” the force said in an email statement.
The same officer, identified by his badge number, had shouted “Black Lives Matter” to an AFP journalist the same evening.
When asked what he meant by the phrase, he replied: “That means we are the best in the world.”
China, alongside Hong Kong’s police and city leaders have seized on the US police response to racial justice protests in recent weeks as a way to exonerate its own reaction to pro-democracy protests in the city.
Hong Kong police spent seven straight months last year battling huge and often violent protests, hammering the force’s reputation.
More than 9,000 people have been arrested, while officers fired about 16,000 tear gas rounds and shot three people with live rounds, all of whom survived their wounds.
Rights groups and protesters accuse officers of regularly using disproportionate force and an independent inquiry into the police has been a core demand of the democracy movement for the last year.
Police have denied all brutality accusations, saying their force matched that of protesters.
Last month the city’s police watchdog cleared the force of any wrongdoing.
The finding did little to mollify protesters who have long accused the watchdog of being stacked with government loyalists and lacking teeth.
A group of international experts quit an advisory panel last year saying it was not equipped to properly investigate the police.
The coronavirus outbreak and arrests enforced calm on the city for the first four months of 2020.
But protests have restarted – albeit on a smaller and less violent scale – especially after Beijing announced plans to impose a national security law on Hong Kong last month.