HONG KONG — Looking from an overhead walkway onto the streets below, I noticed the quiet of a warm, late afternoon. Earlier, the streets had been filled with protests between the Chinese government and students, who in this autonomous territory have been demanding what Communist officials refuse to give: control of their destiny.

So day after day, the protesters have willingly faced off with police in riot gear, putting their liberty in peril for what they see as their right. No one wants to be under the thumb of someone else, not if they have a choice.

Students in Hong Kong have no choice but are dead set on getting one, a strategy that Americans know well from our history of political protests. For just as our forefathers fought Great Britain for those inalienable rights, just as slaves fought for their emancipation, just as their progeny waged life-and-death fights in the streets of Harlem, Los Angeles, Detroit and Cleveland for full citizenship, just as women fought for reproductive rights and just as Mexican immigrants fought — and continue to fight — for proper standing in the United States, students in Hong Kong find themselves on the frontlines in their push for similar rights.

To get that choice from China, students must mount the sort of street demonstrations that mark much of the protests throughout the last century. Not that underrepresented Americans have always used protests to reshape public policy, but protest had been a strategy that played well for eyes around the world.

Fire hoses and tear gas tell captivating stories, and students know that fact.  The Chinese government knows it, too.

In this standoff, the Chinese government has not unloosed tanks as it did on protesters in Tiananmen Square in another era of student dissent. Yet no one can be certain that these students will not push the resolve of Communist leaders to its breaking point.

Whenever that happens, China will unleash hell’s fury, just as America did on its people in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

I cringe at the thought that blood might run in central Hong Kong. But I do not want the protests to stop early. If they do, injustice will reign, because injustice ensures for these students that their freedom remains elusive.

From my perch above the center city, I could not but pray for the college-age students, their identities hidden behind masks. I wanted to applaud their willingness to sacrifice their today for the promises of a more egalitarian tomorrow.

They had no chance of the latter if they were unwilling to risk the former.

I wish college students in America had such a fighting spirit. In their world of political naivety and indifference, they find nothing to fight for. Their timidity speaks to this American generation in ways the brashness and the courage of Hong Kong students speak to their China, a dictatorship uneasy with its global economic muscle.

It is not wrong for students to want a say in how those economic trends unfold, which explains their bellicose response to political chains. They insist China cuts the chains, and they will protest until it does.

As protesters scrawled across a subway entrance:

The hate of man will pass                                                                                                                                                  but dictators die

How many will dictators kill first? Is death a risk worth taking?