There was a time when as a member of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) in China you could fire into crowds, beat citizens senseless, and get away with it all.
The Internet has changed that dynamic, adding a layer of grass-roots accountability in lieu of any state accountability, as evidenced in the recent riot in Shifang, Sichuan Province, southwestern China.
After young people organized a protest recently that grew to thousands strong, against plans for a copper and molybdenum refinery, PAP forces from surrounding areas descended on the town to enforce a harsh crackdown. The local government later rescinded the plan to build the refinery, in the face of national discontent.
Riot police in China are notoriously violent, and the Shifang case was no different. But it was unusual that in this case, individual PAP members were photographed, identified, and themselves became targets for harassment. Shopkeepers in Shifang also refused to accept their business.
Riot police themselves, were getting online and squabbling over whose district’s cops were the aggressive ones, and who were the ones firing those tear gas canisters and flash grenades into the crowds.