Sunday’s protests in Hong Kong’s Tsuen Tsing district were notable for three things – a policeman pulling out his gun and firing a warning shot in the air, the use of water cannon trucks and shops being vandalized by protesters.

The protests, now in their 12th week, started after the city’s Beijing-backed government tried to pass an extradition bill to China, but has now evolved into a wider call for greater democracy and police accountability.

Sunday’s rally in Tsuen Tsing degenerated into clashes between anti-extradition protesters and police after some of the demonstrators tried to take revenge on alleged triad gangsters in the area.

The protest was scheduled to end in Tsuen Wan Park, but more than 1,000 protesters in black shirts moved to nearby streets and built roadblocks in Yeung Uk Road at about 5:30pm, the Apple Daily reported.

About 30 minutes later, two water cannon-equipped anti-riot police vehicles were deployed for the first time and took up position in the streets off Yeung Uk Road and Tai Ho Road after some protesters hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails at riot police.

At about 6.50pm, one of the water cannon trucks sprayed a short burst of water at the water-filled plastic barriers near the junction of Yeung Uk Road and Texaco Road, prompting protesters to retreat.

Some of the crowd then headed to Yi Pei Square – an area known as the “Fujian gang” neighborhood after the triad gang members who allegedly live there. Two middle-aged men wearing blue shirts, the color triad members wore at previous violent assaults, were reportedly hiding there after attacking protesters with metal rods in the afternoon.

The protesters broke the shutter-doors and windows of closed shops, including the Zhongyuan Festival Cultural Association, restaurants and a licensed Mahjong gambling outlet, all allegedly operated by the triads. The protesters left at 8pm when it was rumored that police were on their way.

Afterwards, an unexpectedly tense clash happened near the intersection of Chuen Lung Street and Sha Tsui Road when a group of protesters encountered a police van and broke the vehicle’s windows with metal rods and bamboo poles.

Officers came out of the vehicle, but were vastly outnumbered and retreated from the onslaught. One of the policemen stumbled and fell and several officers responded by pulling out their guns, the city’s broadcaster RTHK reported.

Video captured two unmasked men dropping to their knees, pleading with the officers not to open fire.

One of the officers kicked one man out of the way as several colleagues advanced at least five meters, pointing their weapons at the crowd the whole time. One of the officers appeared to pick up a revolver from the ground at one point before pointing it at protesters.

During the chaotic stand-off, an RTHK reporter said he witnessed one of the officers firing a shot into the sky and soon the others holstered their weapons and retreated.

At 9pm, superintendent Leung Kwok-wing told reporters that one of the officers only pulled his weapon because he felt his life was under threat after he and his colleagues came under attack by a “mob of rioters.”

The remaining five officers were injured in the incident and taken to hospital.

At 1:25am on August 26, police held a media briefing and defended officers’ decision to draw their guns during the confrontation against the crowd, adding that it was a “natural reaction” for one officer to kick a kneeling, unarmed man when faced with life-threatening circumstances, said Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu of the Police Public Relations Branch.

She added that six officers drew their service revolvers and one fired a warning shot into the air, which did not hit anyone, as a means of protecting themselves.