One month after a group of masked thugs in white shirts attacked protesters in Yuen Long, a Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station, violence has once again turned a would-be-peaceful protest into a chaotic scene. But in this case, subgroups of the mostly peaceful protesters may have to shoulder the blame for the unrest.

The July 21 incident at the station marked a turning point for the now three-month protest that began for real on June 9 when hundreds of thousands of people marched to protest a controversial extradition bill.

In the July rioting, nearly 50 people were injured when the pro-China gang, dressed in white, attacked innocent bystanders and protesters who were dressed in black. Set upon with bamboo sticks and other objects, at least one person was critically injured. The protesters were just returning home from a confrontation in central Hong Kong where they faced tear gas fired at them by police who accused the protesters of throwing bricks and other items.

In this latest incident thousands of peaceful protesters, again dressed in black, gathered to demand justice for victims of the rampage by the white-clad men. A small distance away, the less peaceful subgroup put up barriers on nearby Yuen Long Kau Hui Road and hurled abuse at riot police at the nearby village of Tung Tau Tsuen.

When the police chased them back toward the station, they used trash bins and fire buckets to create barriers and began to set off fire extinguishers. The police remained on the footbridge outside the station perhaps out of fear being injured themselves or being blamed for any protester injuries. Ironically, police inaction was the cause of much anger in the July 21 incident. After a few hours, the police left, and the protests died down. Some protesters were seen voluntary helping to clean up after calm had been restored.

The pro-democracy protests in semi-autonomous Hong Kong are a major challenge to Beijing's authority
The pro-democracy protests in semi-autonomous Hong Kong are a major challenge to Beijing's authority AFP / Anthony WALLACE

A 21-year-old student and resident of Yuen Long, Benjamin Tsang. expressed some anger against the police and accused them of selectively enforcing the law. He told the South China Morning Post: “I am so disappointed. No prosecution has been made against the mob over the past month while nearly 50 protesters in Sheung Wan (an area west of Hong Kong’s main business district) were charged with rioting within hours.”

The police response is to claim that they lacked the manpower in Yuen Long because their Emergency Unit officers were busy dealing with fights, assaults and a fire in the district before the MTR violence broke out. There was also a mass rally that same night on Hong Kong Island that required a police presence.