China’s Bad Comrade Cops

The
shooting of a prominent Guangzhou doctor spotlights China’s
police problem

 

Photo by Derrick Chang

china-copThe
early-morning killing in Guangzhou a week ago of a respected
neurosurgeon by a rookie policeman has raised a storm of protest
against abuse of police power and lack of accountability.

At
five o’clock on November 13, Yin Fangming, 43, a doctor at the
city’s Pearl River hospital, was talking with a friend when two
officers came up to his car. He argued with one of them and started
to drive away. The officer fired a bullet through his heart. An
ambulance drove him to the hospital where he worked, but he was
declared dead on arrival.

The
news sparked an uproar among a public already angry about
heavy-handed cops who run roughshod in a system with no independent
judiciary, no free press and a concentration of power in the hands of
the Communist Party. Judges and investigators do not have a free hand
in cases involving the military and the police. As in the former
Soviet Union and other one-party states, Communist or right-wing, the
army and police enjoy a high official status because they are the
guardians of the regime. Without them, it would not survive.

This
is especially the case in China, where the government regards
stability as essential for economic development. “Kill 10,000
and we will have stability for 10 years,” Deng Xiaoping
reportedly said when he agreed to implement martial law during the
unrest in Beijing in 1989. “Without stability, we can achieve
nothing.”

“I
do not know how many villains and bad people this officer has
killed,” wrote one angry blogger, expressing a common
sentiment. “This is not only a loss to the nation and the
people but seriously infringes the country’s legal system. We
want to see how this criminal in police uniform is held responsible.”

There
is widespread skepticism over the official version of the incident  
the officers said they were suspicious of the military number plate
on Dr. Yin’s green passenger car and asked him about it: he
refused to answer questions and drove away, dragging the officer, who
was holding the door handle, for several meters. Only then did the
cop open fire.

The
consensus among bloggers is that, whatever Yin did, the officer
should not have shot to kill.

The
chief witness, Wang Yanwu, whom Yin was talking to, was taken away by
police and remains in custody. The Guangzhou police chief promised a
public accounting of the incident once an investigation is completed.
The propaganda department of Guangdong province ordered the media to
report only official pronouncement and to do no independent reporting
of the incident.

Yin,
who held the rank of deputy professor, was a graduate of the First
Military Medical University and had received numerous awards for his
surgery and research work. The hospital where he worked was run by
the military until the end of 2004, when it was turned over to the
local government.

The
officer who fired on Yin is about 30, a recent recruit, who had
worked for just three months on a security detail at the hospital.

On
the afternoon of November 16, more than 100 of Yin’s colleagues
held a memorial service on the hospital’s basketball court. “We
do not fear medical emergencies but we fear for our own lives,”
said one long-serving nurse. “No-one is safe now. They must
clear the good name of Doctor Yin.”

Controversial
police shootings and gratuitous beatings are hardly a rarity. Last
Friday (November 16) a court in Henan province heard a case in which
six officers took an unemployed worker to the local station in
September 2004, beat him up and threw him out of a third-floor window
to his death. He had been in an argument with an official of a law
court. The case was first presented as a suicide but was finally
prosecuted this year. One officer was sentenced to death, one got a
suspended life sentence and the third life imprisonment.

The
police also have their representative at the pinnacle of political
power, in Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, chosen as one of
the nine members of the standing committee of the ruling Politburo in
October. He is also the first party secretary of the People’s
Armed Police, a nationwide paramilitary organization under military
control that complements the police and the army.

Police
in China, then, operate in the knowledge that they have the full
backing of the government and the party and are rarely vulnerable to
challenge by the public.

As
a result, many Chinese regard them with a mixture of fear and
disgust. “One policeman more, one hoodlum less,” is a
common saying.

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