Friday, May 24, 2013

Unholy Matrimony - Huaguang Community protest turns ugly

Persistent Advocacy

I arrived in front of the Executive Yuan a little before 10am yesterday morning, thinking it would be just another press conference and demonstration by the residents of the Huaguang Community and their supporters.  I decided to go and observe this particular event, because I was curious about the mock traditional Chinese wedding ceremony the students were planning, where Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) marries big land developing and construction corporations using the Huaguang Community as dowry.

As I approached the Executive Yuan, I took a quick sweeping look to examine the composition of the demonstrators and the police force.  I sensed an unfamiliarity from the police, as I saw many unrecognizable faces (as many protesters as I’ve observed in the Zhongzeng District (中正區), where most central government buildings are located, I started to recognize members of the police force) and somehow the body language from the police seemed more tense than usual.  

The press conference started out fairly routine.  One of the student leaders presented a scathing critique of the Ma Ying-jeou administration, for the law suits filed against the community residents and for imposing tremendous amount of fine for “illegally profiting” and charging back rent from the residents.  The student leader also pointed out the administration’s refusal to provide assistance in relocating the residents, who are mostly elderly and with health problems.  

After the resident representatives of Huaguang Community delivered their emotional plead, the mock wedding ceremony was on.  It was one of the most creative skits I’ve seen at demonstrations.  As the groom, in this case, Premier Jiang Yi-huah, courted the veiled bride with plot where the Huaguang Community is located as dowry, the veiled bride, who turned out to be large corporations, accepted Jiang’s courtship and reciprocated with two hands full of ghost money.  The demonstrators then sent the happy newlywed off to their honeymoon.  

The protesters then attempted to enter the Executive Yuan to deliver their banner and plead to the real premier, who was having a cabinet meeting inside the building.  Even then, this initial clash was fairly typical, with the protesters crowding together and pushing the shields of the police officers.  A few protesters were grabbing onto the shields of the police but were quickly subdued.  The students retreated back as they picked up the ghost money from the ground and threw them at the Executive Yuan.  Many students now had their backs turned to the police, as they prepared to wrap up the demonstration and to clean the ghost money off the ground.  

Then, a loud whistle pierced the air and broke the chants of the protesters and the microphone announcement of one police commander with the sign for the protesters to disburse.  Without warning, another commander ordered the police positioned in front of the gate to charge the students with their shields.  Many unsuspected students fell to the ground, as well as the tall police officer from the Zhongzeng First Precinct, who rushed between the students and the charging police to separate them.  

Meanwhile, I was standing on the sideline, photographing and taking notes to document the event.  I decided to stay further from the crowd, as I had meetings all day after the protest, and I was in a dress.  I saw something blue coming at me from my periphery vision, as I raised my camera to snap a few shots, then I felt a sharp pain on my left hand, as a shield clobbered then scraped down on my hand.  I was caught completely by surprise and almost fell to the ground.  I instinctively responded with a loud, “Ouch!!!”  As I regained my balance, I yelled at the police officer, “Are you crazy!?  What are you hitting me for!?”  The cop said nothing and turned to push other students with his shield.  I looked down and my hand was already very red and throbbing with pain.  

The pushing and shoving continued for another few minutes, as I observed two different commanding officers, both with microphones, yelling different things to the shielded officers.  

The second clash ended just as abruptly as it started.  Both sides received scrapes and scratches.  

The videos of the clash and the police charging the students can be found here, here and here (the video here has subtitles).

Some Reflection

As I examined the photographs I took after coming home, I discovered why yesterday’s protest was such a mess.  I observed three groups of copsfrom different divisions - the Zhongzeng First Predict police (中正第一分局) from the district, the Special Police First Headquarters from the National Police Agency (保安警察第一總隊), who specialized in riot-control training and were the ones charging the students, and Taoyuan County police.  

My conclusion is the two additional groups of police officers were probably dispatched to assist the district police, that somehow found itself short of working officers yesterday.  The Special Police commander’s unwise decision to go after the students escalated the situation rather than helping it.  There were miscommunication all around, different announcements being broadcasted, as the police scrambled to make sure the protesters did not enter the Executive Yuan premise.  

The force applied to the students was excessive, when the protest was obviously close to ending.  I thought the Special Police officer who decided to hit me with his shield acted unprofessionally, as I was clearly not pushing the police nor did I look like a protester (I also don’t believe they should use the shield as an instrument to hit any protester either).  The lesson l learned from yesterday is always expect the unexpected and be aware of one’s surroundings.  

After all this, there will be another demolition on May 30th, unless the Ministry of Justice decided to postpone this one as well.  The plight of the Huaguang Community persists, with the dedicated student advocates vow to stand with the residents until the very end. 

(All photograph by the author).

The Taoyuan County police putting a protester on a chokehold 
The Special Police squeezing a young student 
Students picking up the ghost money and cleaning up after the protest. 

Mr. Chiu

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