Twenty-two seconds of real-life police drama have riveted and divided many in China over police officers’ powers to use force against irate residents – including a woman clutching an infant.
A video taken by an onlooker has spread online since Friday, showing a woman in Shanghai arguing with an officer over a parking fine.
China may be a firmly authoritarian state, but it is common for people to argue energetically with street-level police officers, especially over traffic fines. The recent confrontation has renewed debate about how far law enforcers should be allowed to push back.
In the video, the woman advances on the police officer, tussling with him while holding her child to her chest. The officer remonstrates her, and, after a momentary lull, she advances again, pushing and prodding him.
Then, 22 seconds into the video, as a colleague opens the door to a police vehicle, the officer suddenly slams the woman to the ground, sending the infant flying to the pavement. The officers wrestle the woman on the ground, initially oblivious to the child, who is helped by onlookers.
The confrontation has distilled two concerns close to the heart of many Chinese people: the crude, sometimes brutal, behaviour of police officers and other street-level law enforcers; and the treatment of children in a society where many parents have only one child. All the more striking, the scene took place in Shanghai, one of China’s richest, most sophisticated cities.
By Saturday, millions in China had watched and dissected the video on social media, especially on Weibo, a microblog service like Twitter, and on WeChat, where users often share images and opinions with friends.
But views were divided, and the discussion spilled onto Twitter, which is open in China only for users who have the software to bypass the censorship firewall.
Most comments on Weibo and Chinese news sites condemned the police officers for putting the child at risk of serious injury.
“How much of a threat to the safety of a police officer could come from a woman clutching a child,” one commenter said on Weibo. “Even if there was some disputation, that was no reason to slam the child to the ground.”
But some argued that the woman bore some responsibility for putting her child between herself and the officer.
“Simply put, this is the upshot of poor rule of law,” said another user on Weibo. “This troublemaker believed that the police wouldn’t take her on and acted with reckless abandon.”
The fight probably attracted more attention because it happened in middle-class Shanghai. But rough handling by the police has spawned controversies in other parts of China. And the ubiquity of smartphones has helped residents to publicize allegations of abuse, despite censorship.
In 2014, a burly police officer in Taiyuan, a city in northern China, was sentenced to five years in prison after a woman died when he wrestled her to the ground by twisting her head.
Last year, two men in northwestern China attracted national attention after they alleged that police officers had beaten them harshly, and pictures spread online of two men’s badly bruised buttocks.
By Friday evening, the online uproar was loud enough that authorities in Shanghai took action. The city’s Bureau of Public Security announced that the police officer who pushed the woman had been suspended.
“It was wrong of the police officer in the incident to try to stop the unreasonable scuffling by the person involved by using crude law enforcement,” the public security bureau said.
But online, some were not mollified.
“The leaders of the Shanghai police are covering up a crime,” one person commented on Weibo. “For two police officers to beat up the woman like that must at least count as the crime of intentional injury.”
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
The New York Times