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Shooting tragedy could have been avoided

By Li Yang | China Daily | Updated: 2015-05-16 07:41

The death of Xu Chunhe, a beggar, at Qing'an railway station in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province on May 2 would not have put so much pressure on police and the local government had the local officials released the surveillance video immediately instead of waiting for 12 days to do so.

Reports said a policeman shot Xu, the 45-year-old father of three children and husband of a mentally challenged woman. The tragedy forced the sacking of the deputy head of the county government for rewarding the policeman for his action after netizens exposed he had lied about his age and education.

Worried about the developments, the Ministry of Public Security sent a team to investigate the incident nine days after it took place. The team released the video after three days of investigation.

The intervening period saw netizens making wild guesses about what happened. A popular one is, Xu, a poor farmer, was on his way to lodge a complaint with higher authorities about the mistreatment he received from the local government when he was stopped and shot by the policeman.

Yet the video shows Xu in a different light. He was drunk, blocked an entrance to the station, attacked the policeman with a baton he had snatched from him, picked up his little daughter and threw her like a piece of stone at the policeman and tried to use his mother as a shield to protect himself. After warning Xu to stop attacking him, the policeman shot him in the chest.

After the video was released, public opinion changed abruptly, with many netizens saying Xu deserved punishment. But the authorities have no reason to rejoice, because the probe was not to please the public but to determine whether the policeman was guilty of using excessive force.

There were many turning points in the three-minute incident. If the policeman had managed to calm down Xu at the very beginning, if he had called for reinforcements in time, if bystanders had helped to subdue Xu before he snatched the baton, or if the policeman had shot him in the leg instead of the chest, Xu would not have died leaving his family helpless.

Although the law entitles police to use the gun when attacked or threatened, it does not mean they should not try other methods to control a situation before pulling the trigger. Also, the local government should not have rewarded the policeman before a third-party probe had reached its conclusion. More importantly, the county government should have made its probe transparent and released the video immediately to allow people to see what had actually happened.

Since law enforcement has always been a difficult job, the government should train policemen, especially at the grassroots level, to properly respond to emergencies.

Xu made about 6,000 yuan ($966) a year from the land he had rented out. But he spent a considerable part of that money on liquor. His mother was forced to beg several years ago to take care of his three children. Xu started begging later.

After Xu's death, the local government said it would take care of his family, but it should have paid more attention to the plight of his old mother, children and mentally challenged wife before the tragedy.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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