It’s a long running joke that many in the West continue to misleadingly characterize China as a police state. In the run up to the Olympics, there are people who mocked Chinese efforts to provide for a safe and successful Olympics – even though massive security efforts now appear to be quite routine in the West (see e.g., 2002 Olympics, 2004 Olympics, 2006 Olympics, 2010 Olympics, 2012 Olympics).
It’s easy to accuse others. After all, as a well-known verse from the Christian Bible says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” But isn’t this going a bit too far?
Recently, FAIR had an interesting article about the militarizing of the police in the U.S. and the aggressive tactics taken by police against the Occupy protesters throughout the nation.
[P]olice forces in various cites took a militarized, increasingly coordinated approach to the movement that began as Occupy Wall Street, reporters were frequently treated as the enemy—with tactics designed to prevent them from documenting exactly how activists were being removed from public spaces.
When the NYPD evicted Occupy Wall Street protesters from Manhattan’s Liberty Plaza in the wee hours of November 15, they did their best to keep journalists far from the scene. Before the park was cleared, police asked reporters present to show their press credentials—and then made them leave the park.
Most media ended up behind barricades blocks away; reporters for outlets like the New York Times and NPRwere arrested (Gothamist, 11/15/11). When Village Voice reporter Rosie Gray told police, “I’m press!” she said one officer responded: “Not tonight” (Media Decoder, 11/15/11).
Lest you think such treatment was only given to members of the “liberal media,” police hostility to journalism crossed ideological boundaries: Police clearing Liberty Plaza put a New York Post reporter in a headlock; earlier, a photographer from another Murdoch-owned outlet, New York’s Fox 5, was pepper-sprayed in the eyes (My Fox New York, 10/5/11).
If police forces nationwide seem to be taking similar steps against the Occupy movement, it’s not a coincidence: Police chiefs in cities with occupations going on have been getting together to discuss strategies and tactics, including via conference calls organized by the Police Executive Research Forum, an association of law-enforcement officials.
A San Francisco Bay Guardian article by Shawn Gaylor (11/18/11) gave a sense of who’s directing that conversation. PERF’s board chair is Philadelphia police chief Charles Ramsey, who headed D.C.’s police force when it used preemptive mass arrests to squelch protests against the IMF and World Bank (Extra!, 7–8/00). Before Ramsey, PERF’s board was led by John Timoney, the former Miami police chief whose crackdown on the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas demonstrations attached the name “Miami Model” to this approach to protests (New Standard, 6/8/04)—based on a militarized approach to crowd control, tactical use of “less-lethal” violence (e.g., pepper spray) and, crucially, control of information.
A 2006 PERF report, Police Management of Mass Demonstrations, advocates the use of military-style “embedded reporter programs” of the sort that were used in the L.A. evictions. “Camera shots from the police side of a confrontation can capture a more comprehensive view than if cameras are only on the protesters’ side,” the report notes. Of course, if everyone on the protesters’ side gets arrested, whether they’re taking pictures or not, that would leave the public with only the police-eye view.
Whatever opinions people want to have about China, they should base those on facts, not ideology.
Here are some interesting facts. The U.S. has the highest prison population in the world for some time (2008 NYTimes article, 2011 NYTimes article). According to the most recent data at NationMeter, the U.S. has by far the most prison population per capita also, followed by Russia and Belarus (compare also data from ICPS). Mainland China ranks in NationMeter at 71 (117 in ICPS ranking).
Still, sometimes it’s really difficult to put the coldwar ideology blinders away.
Recently, I see some blogger go so far as to attribute the lack of good Samaritan spirit in China to the existence of a police state. The reality is that a fear of the law and the phenomenon of bystander effect are probably more than sufficient to explain problem. In the U.S., for example, you find such cases too (see, e.g., the Lululemon case and the gang rape of California girl case).
China is never going to be a global model. Our current Western system is really broken in some fundamental ways, but the Chinese system is not going to work either. It is a deeply unfair and immoral system where everything can be taken away from anyone in a split second, where people die in train accidents because of a rampant lack of public oversight and transparency, where corruption rules. We are already seeing huge protests in all parts of China …
Besides misunderstanding China’s search for a “model” to be a paradigm to export and impose abroad, Fukuyama amazes me by how he continues to see every problem in China – from train accidents to corruption – as a an existential indictment of the Chinese polity.
In the United States for 1990, 2005, 2008 and 2009 (combined), there were about 30.3 deaths for every billion passenger kilometers traveled. …
For every billion passenger kilometers traveled in China for the same four years, there were .02 deaths.
For every billion passenger kilometers traveled in India, there were .07 deaths.
The death rate in America was 1,515 times higher than China for each billion passenger kilometers traveled.
And while corruption is a real problem in China, it’s much worse in democratic India – and may be intractably worse in America too if systemic, legalized corruption (see also revolving door politics) is taken into account.
Here is my take: the belief in liberal democracy is genuine, but that’s not necessarily bad. Even when China was at its weakest, a lot of Chinese people still believed that the values it held were “superior.”
The belief becomes a problem when one becomes a zealout and refuses to see the world any other way.
The reality is that both Eastern / Western systems probably work just fine. You just need a proper environment. The “environment” has been good for the West the last 500 and bad for China the last 200 or so years. That historical fortune (misfortune as may be the case for China) does not mean Western models work better than the Chinese model per se.
It’s in the interest of the world to experiment with all sorts of political structures. The way forward is to allow each other space to develop and to learn, adopt and benefit from each others’ experiences – not to fall back on religious zealotry and fear.