HONG KONG — Video footage of police officers in Hong Kong pinning a schoolgirl to the ground during a protest has set off a public outcry over the police’s use of force amid a widening crackdown on political dissent.
The footage shows the 12-year-old girl walking in a shopping area in Hong Kong near a site where riot police officers were trying to stop demonstrators from gathering on Sunday. It shows the girl running as several officers approached her. A few officers gave chase, and one of them held her down while onlookers shouted in anger.
The footage shot by local reporters quickly drew a flood of critical comments on social media. On Tuesday, teachers, psychologists and social workers circulated a petition demanding an apology from the authorities and a call for the officers involved to be investigated. The organizers said that the petition had gathered more than 10,000 signatures after a few hours.
The petition criticized the police’s tactics as an “indiscriminate treatment of children” who did not take part in protests. They warned that such tactics could “plant seeds of hatred against law enforcement officers among children.”
The police said that the officers had used “minimum necessary force” while chasing the girl, whom they said “suddenly ran away in a suspicious manner.”
The police said officers issued her a ticket for violating social distancing regulations put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Her family members said in television interviews that they would contest any fine levied for the violations.
The girl, who has not been identified publicly because of her age, told the local news media that she had felt targeted because of her age.
“I feel like being young is a crime,” she said.
The police have arrested more than 3,000 students at protests that started in June last year, a trend that has drawn concern from rights groups. Mrs. Lam, the city’s leader, has said the arrests exposed how campuses have been targeted by forces hostile to the local and central governments.