‘They’re Willing to Die’: What an American in Hong Kong Sees

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Since early November, Cody Howdeshell has been in Hong Kong, delivering first aid to protesters. He’s seen some of the violence firsthand: Hong Kong police, he says of one incident, “went in and they beat these kids that were already half dead with their nightsticks and began to absolutely tear them out with no mercy, probably dislocating limbs, and shoved them against the wall and arrested them.”

Howdeshell joins the podcast to share why the protesters want freedom, what he thinks will happen in the long term, and what he believes Americans should learn from Hong Kong’s experience.

“Nothing in communism is voluntary, and it has to be enforced with violence at the end of the day against those that would preserve their own freedom and liberty,” Howdeshell says.

Read the lightly edited transcript below or listen to the podcast:

We also cover these stories:

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Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Cody Howdeshell, a merchant seaman from North Carolina who is in Hong Kong right now providing emergency first aid to the Hong Kong freedom fighters. Cody, thank you so much for making time to be with us today.

Cody Howdeshell: Thank you for having me.

del Guidice: So right now you’re on the ground in Hong Kong helping the freedom of fighters, giving them emergency first aid. Can you set the scene for us and tell us what you’ve been witnessing day-to-day?

Howdeshell: When we first arrived—we arrived on Nov. 1—You could walk around the streets during the day and you would think this was just a normal city. The protests typically happened Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, and during daylight hours it was business as usual.

It was almost surreal walking out in the morning and seeing everything going on as if nothing had happened the night before. When the night before, you had seen tons of rounds of tear gas fired and pepper spray and had violent clashes between police and protesters. And even then the violence wasn’t quite as high as its become now.

I mean, it would’ve been nice if things have deescalated, but we’re also concerned because we’d come here to help [with hope] that things might deescalate in the first week and we would’ve come for nothing.

But in the last nine or 10 days with the universities being placed under siege and fortifying themselves and all the students joining in the fight more so than ever before, we’ve seen the violence escalate and the clashes occur a lot more regularly to the point where it’s been 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Yesterday evening, last night was the first night I’ve had off in probably about 10 days. Tonight seems quiet, as well. I think everyone is just burned out and the protesters are having a bit of a break. …

During the past 10 days or so when it was really at its peak, walking down the street, you would typically pass one area where the protesters were building their roadblocks. They tear the bricks up from the cobblestone sidewalks or the paving bricks and throw them in the road and stack them in the road.

They’ve actually been using mortar and building proper walls. They use bamboo scaffolding and anything they can get from construction sites.

And then you would walk another block or two and you would see the police fans coming in and they would set up their lines and they would have their faceoff and that would usually involve the police.

There’s certain protocols that the police have to follow. So they raise a blue flag that says, “This is an illegal assembly and you must disperse,” and nobody does. So then they raise a flag … it’s black and says, “We’re going to fire tear gas.” Nobody leaves. So they fire tear gas.

And then they can raise an orange flag saying, “We will disperse or we will fire.” And when they say they will fire, they mean rubber bullets and sponge rounds and bean bag rounds. They don’t mean actual live rounds usually.

So then on through the night that goes on where the protesters and the police faceoff, rounds are exchanged. The protesters throw bricks, they throw Molotovs, they’ve been seen building trebuchets, catapults, slingshots. And the police returned fire with tear gas and rubber bullets.

And they usually [go] back and forth, you know, the protesters gain some ground, the police gain some ground. And the usual ending is a high-speed charge by the riot police firing tear gas as they go.

But these guys are weighed down with a lot of gear and they’re all in their 30s or so. And you’ve got a bunch of students in tracksuits that are in … the prime of their lives.

So a lot of them are 16, 17, 18, 19, and they’d take off in high speed like rabbits. They obey the police and then they regroup about an hour later and it happens again. Eventually, everybody goes home and sleeps a little bit.

del Guidice: So there are multiple cycles of … activity it sounds like per night when there’s a protest happening?

Howdeshell: Yeah. It was definitely sort of to poke and prod the police and antagonize them and then withdraw. And then to do it again and withdraw.

That changed quite a bit with the universities because, so far, all the battles had been in the open streets. So it was very easy to withdraw. But when the universities became a point of attack and the students decided to defend them, there was no option to just run.

So what you saw was a vast amount of the population keeping the police busy in the streets while the university students had the opportunity to fortify their universities. And when those battles happened—as we saw last Tuesday at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and as is going on right now and coming to a close at Poly University, Polytechnic University—those battles are extremely long, drawn out, and extremely violent with a very high number of casualties.

Cody Howdeshell carries a wounded protester. (Photo: Matthew Rodier)

del Guidice: So the protests in Hong Kong, they started the original ones more than actually six months ago over an extradition bill, which by [being] ruled in … started the protests. And then the protesters ended up getting their main demand met, and the extradition bill was tabled. But since then the protests have continued and, honestly, only intensified. And I’m curious what you think.

Do you think the protest will end at any point? And since [proteters’] main demand was met, what do you think now is the primary driver of the protests continuing?

Howdeshell: I don’t think that the extradition bill, once it got going, remained their main demand. It started that way. But I think once the people realized the power they had and the ability they had to organize and come out all nice and actually … well, to use a phrase that I’m not always a fan of, but speaking truth to power.

Once they realized that they said, “As long as we’re doing this, we really ought to be demanding what we fully deserve,” and what was, as far as I understand, promised to them when Britain withdrew. And that was that they would also have universal suffrage.

So at this time a large part of the house of legislature here in Hong Kong is not actually elected by the people, democratically elected. It’s appointed by these councils. …

These five demands these protesters have, one, is the extradition bill being withdrawn, which has now been done. And the second biggest one, I think, and opinions may vary on this, but would be universal suffrage, meaning they have a fully democratic governing system where they elect all their members of this legislature.

How will it end? I don’t know. It would be a massive concession on China’s part to allow them to have a fully democratic government. …

The other demand that really the government could give into, for instance, [is having] a private investigation of the police force and police brutality, which so far has not been done.

Also, one of the demands was that the government no longer referred to the protest as riots, but as protests, which has sort of been done.

Though, pardon me, to be fair, at this point, I don’t call it protest myself. This is insurgency. When you’re watching young kids in colleges fire flaming bows and arrows at police officers and Molotov cocktails—there’s rumors of IEDs—being made, that’s not a protest. It is a revolution for freedom and democracy.

How will it end? I mean … China is their enemy, really. So it’d be a very hard battle to win, but a bunch of scrappy colonials beat the biggest army and navy back in the 1770s, so possibly they have a chance. And now with the Senate passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, I think they have a lot more of a chance.

del Guidice: So why did you decide to go to Hong Kong and get involved in the first place?

Howdeshell: Just watching it on the news and seeing what was going on. Being from the [United] States where we have a lot more freedom than Hong Kong, but I think we have a lot fewer people that are willing to put literally their lives on the line for it.

There’s a lot of chest-beating and plenty of people that’ll say, “Oh, I’ll die for my freedom, come and take it,” etc. But at the end of the day, the reality of what it would be like to actually defend your freedom with your life I don’t think is really appreciated.

And so here, like I said, at the time it was a bit more peaceful, but they were still definitely putting not their lives on the line, but they were putting their freedom on the line, because they could get arrested. They’re putting their money where their mouth was essentially.

Also, you never know what is true and what isn’t in the media these days, especially when it’s coming from a place so far away. And so, one of the main reasons was if I’m on the ground, I can see for myself what is happening and not have any doubts about what is true and what is false.

And two, well, I just wanted to be involved and help out in some way. I mean, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to actually be able to get on the ground and help people that are fighting for freedom and liberty. So here we are.

Cody Howdeshell stands by an abandoned vehicle after the last protesters retreated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and detonated their van bomb in their wake. (Photo: Cody Howdeshell)

del Guidice: Have any of the protesters that you’ve met or treated stood out to you in particular?

Cody Howdeshell: Oh, they all stand out, especially—so we have what we call the front liners. And these are the guys that are actually holding shields on the front line, protecting the ones behind them from the rubber bullets and the tear gas.

And I should point out, the tear gas is meant to be fired near a crowd. The gas is meant to go into the crowd and then it’s supposed to disperse them through just the negative effects of the gas. But the police have begun using tear gas canisters like bullets. They shoot them at the protesters, they’re flying at a very high velocity and they’re so hot, they’re using Chinese-made tear gas now. And these canisters are so hot that they actually melt into the asphalt roads when they land.

So these front liners who were 16, 17, 18, 19 years old, you see a few 20-, 21-[year olds]. But I’d say the average age is around 18, between 18 to 20. They have an amazing amount of courage and bravery.

I’ve got a few friends here now that participate in the front lines and the fact that they can go out every day when the news is filled with reports of their comrades being arrested, being mercilessly beaten, being abused in jail, or just disappearing, the fact that they can read that and then still go out and continue to fight is astounding.

Cody Howdeshell (right) gives medical assistance to a Hong Kong protester. (Photo: Matthew Rodier)

del Guidice: So The Guardian recently published an editorial saying, “On Monday, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist party, warned that there is ‘absolutely no room for compromise.’” And I’m curious, Cody, what you think. Do you think this is how the protesters feel as well that … they’ve come this far and there is no room for compromise?

Howdeshell: I would say so. I think before the ceases of the universities, perhaps they would have had room for a little bit of compromise. But now after witnessing the police brutality and the action at the universities, realizing just how far the Communist party is willing to go, and just how many lives, humans it is willing to destroy for its goals, they’re willing to die for this, absolutely.

And we saw kids coming out of Poly University trying to escape in the last few days. One ran across the roof of a covered foot bridge, and when he came to the end, he was surrounded by police waiting on the ground. There was no way out for him. And he basically delivered a short speech saying that he would die for freedom, then he jumped down. The police grabbed him immediately.

Others that are still inside the university—and there have been possible opportunities for surrender that would result in arrest, but certainly somewhat safer arrests than having the police storm the university to take you—they have come out and released a statement saying they will not surrender, no matter the cost. They will remain at the university and they will fight until the end. They would rather die than go to prison under a communist regime.

Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on Nov. 18, 2019. Pro-democracy demonstrators holed up in a Hong Kong university campus set the main entrance ablaze on Nov. 18 to prevent surrounding police moving in, after officers warned they may use live rounds if confronted by deadly weapons. (Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

del Guidice: That is … just incredible to see this happening in today’s day and age. I’m curious, were you there at Hong Kong Polytechnic University? And have you seen personally all of the action that’s been happening there? Or have you just heard from others what’s been going on at that particular university?

Howdeshell: No. I’ve been in three universities. So we started out spending 48 hours in City University where no one knew which university would be attacked first.

We arrived at City University actually due to a miscommunication, the City University and this Chinese University, both of Hong Kong and both abbreviated CUHK. We went to the wrong CUHK and arrived there while the students were just beginning to fortify the university.

We’ve watched that happening, waiting for the police to attack for 48 hours and when the police didn’t attack it looked as if they would. During that time, that was the siege of Chinese University. That’s pretty well covered, at least in the news here now, and I’m sure you easily find information on it.

After City University, we went to Chinese University, and we were there for a little under 48 hours, probably there 36 hours.

We got there in the morning. We stayed overnight and we left late the next night, early in the morning. We were in Chinese [University] when the last of the protesters that were holed up in there decided to retreat and go to Poly University to just make their final stand there with the other students.

We were on the bridge when they detonated the very amateur vehicle-borne IED. It was very amateur and I believe that was on purpose. It’s a university, they have chemistry students. I’m sure they could make quite an explosion if they wanted to, but it was pretty contained.

We then left there and we went to Polytechnic and were there for 48 hours. We were there during the clashes with the police, the long drawn out battles with the police, lots of people getting hurt, casualties, tear gas being fired, like I said, as [the] actual canister itself being the weapon and the ammunition rather than just the gas.

We were there when a student shot a police officer through the leg with an arrow and then late in the evening on the second day we were the last first aid team—and not just our team of Americans, but about us for Americans, an American pastor, and probably 20 local Cantonese first aid. We were the last group to be able to get out and walk by the police without being arrested. They offered basically a short window of amnesty for the first day.

Others stayed behind and tried to get out maybe 30 minutes after us, but they were immediately arrested I think because only 30 minutes after we left an … armored personnel carrier rushed the barricade the students had built on the traffic bridge into the university and the students were able to just make enough direct hits with Molotov cocktails that they destroyed, absolutely destroyed, the APC.

That obviously incensed the police and led to a full lockdown. Essentially no one allowed in, no one allowed out, except for journalists. And only journalists were allowed out. They weren’t allowed to go back in. At this point, I think there’s probably only two journalists still in Poly University covering the events.

del Guidice: Cody, what would you say is the overall mood of the protesters? And given all the interactions you’ve had with them, what do you think the protesters would want to tell Americans about why they’re protesting if they had the chance to?

Howdeshell: The overall mood, overall, I would say is one of courage and determination. There are days when they have their victories and there is a lot of upbeat attitudes and there are days when they suffer defeats and certainly right now with Poly University being lost to the police and the students being brutalized and arrested, we’re not seeing a lot of joy right now, but we’re still seeing a lot of hope and a lot of determination to keep fighting.

What would they say to Americans? I think they would ask you to come over here and to join them. They would certainly ask the government to put its full force in any way, shape, or form behind them.

I think if you talked to some of the more philosophical ones, the ones that really do a lot of thinking behind the movement, they would definitely warn Americans of the consequences of allowing communism to get any foothold in your country. The consequences of allowing the Second Amendment to be eroded.

I’ve talked to many here that will tell you flat out, “We wish we had a Second Amendment. We wish we had guns.” Because it’s pretty terrifying when you’re facing off only 30 yards from police that have guns and have lethal force authorized and you have nothing but bricks and Molotov cocktails to throw at them, and your fists. And the only reason they haven’t decided to shoot you is because no one has given the word, “Kill them all.”

But they would certainly just want Americans to know what is happening because they understand that it’s not exactly well covered in the Western media. They just want the word to be out.

A protester is detained by police as he tries to escape from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18, 2019, in Hong Kong. Anti-government protesters organized a general strike since Monday as demonstrations in Hong Kong stretched into their sixth month with demands for an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word “riot” to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage. (Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

del Guidice: What as well do you think the protesters would say about China? Obviously … they are speaking by their very active protesting, but they don’t have freedom of speech there. … If they had the ability to speak about their true feelings, what kinds of things do you think they would say?

Howdeshell: Well, Hong Kong is an anomaly. They do have a surprising amount of freedom of speech, or they certainly did. There are crackdowns now, of course.

Well, I can certainly document several examples of vulgar graffiti telling you exactly what they think about China, but mainly they know what is happening in mainland China. Whereas the people in mainland China don’t know what is happening out here because of their lack of internet access. And they simply don’t want to see that repeated here.

They have had a lot of freedoms because they were under British rule, as funny as it sounds to be under colonial rule. They had more freedom then. And once you get a taste of that, it’s very hard to even contemplate seeing it lost.

They’re absolutely in fear that if China did decide to just come in full force and crack down … those in the protests would end up in prison, labor camps, reeducation camps, immediately. And the rest would just slowly be crushed under the oppressive thumb of communism. …

Hong Kong is a beautiful city, absolutely wonderful and vibrant people and it would just slowly become another dead, gray, communist hellhole and they’re absolutely in fear of that.

del Guidice: What kinds of people have you seen protesting? I know that you mentioned a lot of it is mainly younger students, but I’m curious as well, have you started to see any other segments of the population starting to participate such as people in the working class and professionals or has it just exclusively been students?

Howdeshell: There’s definitely people in the working class. There’s definitely professionals. …

Hong Kong is a sort of a peninsula that sticks out from mainland China and then at the south end there’s Hong Kong Island, and on Hong Kong Island is the central business district. I would just call it central and they’ve been having a lot of lunchtime walkouts where you see the streets just filled with lawyers and doctors and stock traders and bankers and professionals of all various classes and positions in suits and dresses and high heels, out there carrying their umbrellas, raising their hands in the air with five fingers representing the five demands, and chanting slogans.

At first, obviously for PR reasons, the police maintained their distance. They would just wave the blue flag saying, “Hey, this is an illegal assembly. You need to disperse.” And they usually drew the line there. But recently they’ve started firing tear gas as well and nobody that works in an office all day really wants to be exposed to tear gas. The police have managed to completely turn that segment of the population against them.

Now, with the universities, you would always see some older people out at the protests. Sometimes you see old men on the front line shouting at the police. More often than not you see them out passing out food, passing out water, passing out tissues for people to wipe the tears out of their eyes from the tear gases.

But now with the universities being attacked the way they are … honestly my entire timeline in my head is a blur because I get very little sleep these days. But when we left Poly University, which I think was about three nights ago, myself and one of the teammates here from Arizona, we were trying to get back to where we were staying, which was on the island across from Poly.

Police were rushing in from all corners of Hong Kong to attack Poly University. And everyone knew this was happening. This was now 2 in the morning when the streets are generally pretty empty. The traffic flows rather easily.

Thousands of citizens with cars had come out and clogged the intersection, stopped, gotten out of their cars, and just left them sitting there idling. Absolutely brought the entire city to a standstill so that the police could not access Poly University. And they were all blaring their horns. You thought you would lose your hearing. And the police were having to actually get out on foot and run through the blockade of cars to try to get anywhere near to Poly.

… The siege on the university, that’s brought the mothers and fathers that might’ve been hesitating before out. The night before last, they attempted to take Poly University back by a massive offensive within the cities to basically occupy the police force somewhere other than Poly University and eventually break through their lines and go into Poly University. Proper, all-out warfare.

And they formed these massive human chains miles long. You can see videos online, these massive human chains stretching for many city blocks, just … fire brigade-style passing water and food up to the front, trying to get it through to Poly University.

We were out on the streets and there were little old men and little old ladies and mothers and fathers and young kids, 15, 16 years old, people whose sons and daughters and brothers and sisters are stuck in the university out there helping.

The police are shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to the PR battle because they have turned the entire population against them.

For instance, sometime a few months ago, close to the beginnings of the protest, and don’t quote me on the exact numbers, but there was a poll and I believe it was approximately 40% of the population, only 40%, approved of using violence in the protest or using violence against the police. And I’m paraphrasing this, but recently in the past few weeks they performed the same poll, same audience, and now 60% of the population approves of using violence against the police. Violent means to protest.

And that’s not just the amount that supports the protest. Far more than that supports the protest, but 60% is actually in favor of using violence because they understand what is at stake and they understand that at the end of the day, shouting in the street is not really going to affect any change when the real driving force behind the enemy is Communist China.

del Guidice: Wow. It’s incredible to hear you mention that and how basically people’s attitudes have shifted in such a short period of time. Do you think this has potential to … become even more serious? It’s already pretty serious given what we’ve seen at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, but do you think it has the potential to become even more serious than what we’re seeing right now?

Howdeshell: I would not be surprised if within the next few weeks, if things continue on the current trend, that the police will begin firing live rounds and we’ll start seeing a lot of IEDs and warfare very similar to the Middle East.

del Guidice: I’m curious, too, how have you witnessed the protest taking a toll on the city? … I know that you mention people have been coming together and there was that one blockade when the police were trying to reach Hong Kong Polytechnic University, but have you witnessed other things happening where, from the time you got there on Nov. 1 to now, the city is a little bit different than it was when you first arrived?

Howdeshell: Well, I don’t think changes in that aspect happened in my short time here. Certainly not that I’ve noticed because it took me a lot to get acclimatized to Hong Kong in general.

But I will say that in the 20-something days I’ve been here now, I have witnessed two people that did not support the protests vocally that came out and yelled, “Hey, go home guys,” or something ruder than that. Whereas I have witnessed thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people that are absolutely for them.

We’re out there and people come up, they give you water, they give you food. They want to know if you’re OK. Can they help you? Three times now, myself and my teammates have gone to dinner … we’re eating dinner with some other Cantonese medics, [and] we go to pay and they say, “Nope, someone paid for your meal,” or, “No, it’s on the house.”

… Obviously, I haven’t been here that long, and I wasn’t here, say, a year ago, but the camaraderie and sort of the esprit de corps that has developed is amazing. With teamwork and the fact that it is all essentially leaderless is all completely naturally evolving is absolutely amazing.

There’s an entire system of what they call “school buses.” It’s just volunteer drivers, people that have a car that will bring protesters to and from the protests. We’ve been given rides a few times by the same people.

The other night a guy pulled up in like a super fancy BMW thing—I don’t know cars, but it was definitely an expensive car—and just loaded these three dirty Americans that were all sweaty and had a bunch of gear and was more than happy to give us a ride. And we said, “Well, why are you doing this?” He said, “I’m a Hongkonger. I have to do my part. And I wish I could do more. But until then, this is what I’ll do.”

del Guidice: Cody, that was actually going to be my next question. I was so curious how the Hongkongers have responded to you, this American, who’s helping their cause. And it sounds like they’re just so thankful, which is, I mean, it’s so incredible to see the vivid descriptions that you’ve been sharing.

Howdeshell: It’s absolutely heartwarming. Everybody goes around the world traveling these days, “Oh, it was life-changing.” Well, I can tell you that this has absolutely been life-changing for everyone in our team here. …

On probably our second or third protest, someone took a picture of us, all four of us together, and it ended up in what’s called the Stand News, which is maybe on par with The New York Times here. It’s a pretty big publication. And next thing you know we’re walking down the street and random strangers just walk up, pull their phones out, and open the article, … they don’t speak any English, but they just point at it and point at you and [give you a] questioning glance and you nod and [they] give you a hug, shake your hand, and walk on.

So they definitely … appreciate it, and it’s warming for them to see that America knows it’s happening. Because they are shocked at times to see that Americans are aware, and not only that, but came over specifically for this.

del Guidice: You’re already famous.

Howdeshell: We’re Hong Kong celebrities.

del Guidice: So given everything that you have witnessed, Cody, in Hong Kong, what would you want to tell many of our own peers, especially here in the States, who are becoming increasingly attracted to communism?

Howdeshell: Oh, geez. I’d like to shake them by the shoulders and slap them across the face. I’d say, “Come to Hong Kong.”

Come and see it. Come and see a country that is literally only miles away from one of the most communist regimes in modern-day history. And see the vibrance here and then go across the border—which I haven’t done, but I have friends that have—go across the border and see just the dull, gray, dire situation that communism places upon a nation.

And come and see these young kids here that could be just like the young kids back home, and all they’re concerned about is going to college, and getting a nice job, and that’s it, but instead they see the threat that is literally on their doorstep, and they’re willing to step up and fight for it.

Talk to them about the freedoms they have lost, the same freedoms that these young communist-leaning individuals in the states want to give away. And do it with an open mind and see if you can still support that ideology afterward.

Discarded clothes are left on the ground near grafitti that reads “Freedom” in the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on Nov. 18, 2019. Hong Kong riot police swooped on pro-democracy protesters trying to flee a university they had set ablaze, in one of the most violent confrontations seen in nearly six months of unrest. Hundreds of demonstrators clashed throughout the day with police who had threatened to use deadly force, as protests also flared in other parts of the city. (Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

del Guidice: Well, Cody, I cannot thank you enough for making time out of your really busy schedule to join us on The Daily Signal Podcast today. Thank you so much for being with us.

Howdeshell: Can I tell one more story?

del Guidice: Oh, please, go for it.

Howdeshell: OK. This is just to illustrate—going back to your last question—to understand that communism is [not as] beautiful and wonderful as you may think it is back in the states. You have to understand that nothing in communism is voluntary, and it has to be enforced with violence at the end of the day against those that would preserve their own freedom and liberty.

So the night before last when we were trying to push back and take DePaul University again, there were protests all throughout the city.

I was in an area just south of a suburb called Mong Kok, and the protesters were gathered together. They act a bit like if you think of the old Roman garrisons, the way they took their shields and all massed together and sort of locked their shields together, so they formed an impenetrable mass.

They do that except the front line has 4-by-8 sheets of plywood and everyone else has umbrellas that they overlap. And because they’re standing up against tear gas rounds and rubber bullets, the plywood is fine. And the umbrellas slow it down a little bit.

So the protesters were standing at an intersection, having their standoff with the police, throwing Molotovs. Brave young men were running out ahead of the front lines mere yards away from the police to throw Molotovs. And they’re not trying to directly hit the police it seems because they could do a better job if they were. They’re just trying to make a line of fire that the police cannot cross.

The police and the protesters went back and forth as each gained and lost ground. And at one point, the protesters just banded together and began to hail an absolute rain of Molotovs down on the police force. And the police began to retreat, and the protesters began to move forward.

At that time, and I believe these are new to the Hong Kong police force, or at least the use of them is, the police threw flash-bang grenades, which basically just blow up. They’re not meant to kill anyone, though they can, but they emit a very loud sound that sounds a lot like a rifle being fired and a sharp flash of light.

So everyone on the streets that night was nervous knowing that the police had lethal force authorized, and for the first time every group of policemen had one or two carrying actual rifles. Other than that, the police usually carry a very simple and very old fashion revolver, but now they had actual semiautomatic rifles.

So when the police threw these flash-bangs, everyone thought live rounds had been fired. I was standing there. I later talked to a reporter from Texas who was standing there. We’re Americans. He’s from Texas. We all know what a gun sounds like, and we both thought it might’ve been live rounds.

When those went off, the protesters stampeded. They scattered. And there were probably about 200 in this group. This was at an intersection, so they went off in three ways while the police held the opposite road. And the police ran into the crowd with their batons and nightsticks absolutely beating anyone they caught, whether they resisted or not, just beating them to a pulp.

Being first aid with a red cross on my best, they typically run right by me. And there was a young Hong Kong first aid girl who was standing next to me, and they ran right by both of us. As soon as they were by, we ducked and went back through an alley hoping to get to where the protesters were on the backside.

When we came out of that alley, immediately on our right was a narrow pass between a subway station entrance and the main building about 2-and-a-half yards wide, 3 yards wide. Hundreds of people had tried to run for their lives through that narrow passage. It had become a bottleneck. One person tripped, the next person fell on him, and there were 25 to 30 young kids, teenagers, in an absolute pileup.

The boys at the bottom probably had 600 to 900 pounds of force being exerted on them. They were being crushed. I’m sure their internal organs were being destroyed. One’s eyes were rolling back in his head. They were gasping for breath. They were writhing, they were dying, they were suffocating.

When we arrived, it was just me and this very, very petite Cantonese girl. We went in and began to try to pull them out, and it was nearly impossible. The force holding these kids in was like their lower bodies had been trapped in a vice.

Other first aiders got there. The bigger and stronger ones of them got in, and we continued to try to pull them out. There was a fire probably 3 yards away, small fire. Firefighters arrived to put that out, saw the situation, and immediately came to join us in rescuing the kids. …

I’ve never had something so hard to do as pulling these kids out. It took every ounce of strength that any of us had, and we got one out. We got two, three, four, five. I think we got about six kids out. They were able to run away. They came out limp. They couldn’t even stand up when they came out. You had to pick them up, put them on their feet, shout at them to run, and they would stumble off as fast as they could.

The police came around the corner and saw what was happening, came in screaming, beating their batons on their shields and on the walls, and grabbed us, and threw us back. They threw a Hong Kong girl that was first aid, despite being obviously first aid, they threw her to the ground on the hard pavement. And then we had to grab her and get back.

Then they pushed the firemen out of the way. And they went in and they beat these kids that were already half dead with their nightsticks and began to absolutely tear them out with no mercy, probably dislocating limbs, and shoved them against the wall and arrested them.

Police arrest anti-government protesters at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18, 2019, in Hong Kong. Anti-government protesters organized a general strike since Monday as demonstrations in Hong Kong stretched into their sixth month with demands for an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word “riot” to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage. (Photo: Laurel Chor/Getty Images)

del Guidice: Man, at this point they’re essentially … in some cases, preventing first aid.

Howdeshell: Not in some cases. They will prevent first aid in any chance possible.

I’ve been blocked from getting into areas where there are casualties by the police. Then they also push the press away so the press could not document it, though, they were unsuccessful because [press] has documented it. So we don’t know yet, but it’s very possible somebody died there that night.

That’s the same night the police also ran their vans at high speed into crowds. We still don’t know if they actually hit or killed anyone yet … There’s so many rumors that fly around Hong Kong because tensions and emotions are so high. It’s often hard to know what to believe.

And there’s so many rumors of police violence and just extraordinary things, and you think, “No, that can’t be true.” But when you witness that and you witness the vans driving at people and you witness young kids, young kids, being beaten by men in uniform that are supposed to protect them, absolutely beat to the point where their bones are broken and their organs are destroyed, you take those rumors at face value, and you lose any sympathy or any ability to even feel sympathy for the police force.

I realize that’s a long story, but that’s what people need to realize is happening here in Hong Kong. That’s what these guys are up against.

del Guidice: No, that was great. Thank you so much for the vivid descriptions and for almost bringing us there, even though we aren’t there in person. Your vivid descriptions are really incredible. Before we close up and part ways, is there anything else, any final thoughts you want to share with listeners, people from around the country and the world who are listening?

Howdeshell: All I can say to say is say a prayer for Hong Kong and look at flights to come over. If you want to come over, I’ll help you out.

del Guidice: Cody, thank you so much for joining us today on The Daily Signal Podcast, taking time out of your busy day and speaking with us. We really do appreciate it.

Howdeshell: Always, Rachel. Thanks very much for having me on.