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Rumor Check: Are Hong Kong Protesters Really Using the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Gesture in Solidarity With Ferguson?


Is this really a deliberate show of solidarity with Ferguson?

Pro-democracy protestersput their hands up in the air in fron of the police in Hong Kong on September 28, 2014. Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators brought parts of central Hong Kong to a standstill on September 28, in a dramatic escalation of protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for days. It marked a dramatic escalation of protests in the city, which rarely sees such violence, after a tense week of largely contained student-led demonstrations exploded into mass angry street protests. AFP PHOTO / ALEX OGLE ALEX OGLE/AFP/Getty Images

Rumors swirled over the weekend that demonstrators in Hong Kong were using the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

On Sunday, Vox published a story headlined, "Hong Kong's protesters are using the same 'hands up, don't shoot' gesture used in Ferguson."

Pro-democracy protestersput their hands up in the air in fron of the police in Hong Kong on September 28, 2014. (Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)

While the article did note that "it's impossible to say the degree to which protesters are using the gesture as a deliberate nod to Ferguson," it concluded contending that "it's fascinating to see a symbol of the fight against racism and police violence in America become a symbol of democracy and freedom halfway around the world, however it got there."

Other similar stories followed soon after. MSNBC published an article Monday titled, "In Hong Kong, protesters say 'hands up, don't shoot!'" The Daily Mail published a story saying that protesters in Hong Kong had copied the gesture used by U.S. demonstrators.

But, a story in Quartz Sunday appeared to challenge the idea that the gesture used by Hong Kong demonstrators was linked to Ferguson.

According to the story, the gesture used by those in Hong Kong was not a deliberate show of solidarity:

Most Hong Kong protesters aren’t purposefully mimicking “hands up, don’t shoot,”as some have suggested. Instead, the gesture is a result of training and instructions from protest leaders, who have told demonstrators to raise their hands with palms forward to signal their peaceful intentions to police.

Asked about any link between the gesture and Ferguson, Icy Ng, a 22-year-old design student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University said, “I don’t think so. We have our hands up for showing both the police and media that we have no weapons in our hands.” Ng had not heard of the Ferguson protests. Another demonstrator, with the pro-democracy group Occupy Central, Ellie Ng said the gesture had nothing to do with Ferguson and is intended to demonstrate that “Hong Kong protesters are peaceful, unarmed, and mild.” (A more important symbol for the movement may be the umbrella, which protesters have been using to protect themselves against pepper spray and tear gas.)

The Washington Post followed up Monday with a similar analysis:

Sunday, Max Fisher wrote a story for Vox.com arguing that the ‘hands up don’t shoot’ gesture had spread from protests in Ferguson to the pro-democracy demonstrations on the streets of Hong Kong. However, another writer at Quartz.com, who has actually interviewed protesters, says that this is wrong. The evidence seems to show that the gesture had probably not in fact ‘spread’ as Fisher and other commentators believed. Instead, the activists organizing the protests appear to have independently chosen to hold their hands up to emphasize their peaceful intentions to police.

Vox later corrected their post, addressing the controversy.

"Still, Hong Kongers pride themselves on being plugged in to the world, so it is within the realm of possibility that some of them followed the events in Ferguson and are now appropriating the gesture for their own use, even if only subconsciously," their story now argues.

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

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