by Xinhua Writer Zhou Yan and Zhang Xianguo
BEIJING, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- At least a dozen "parapolice" officers were detained after being accused of beating to death a man who filmed their conflict with some villagers in the central Chinese province of Hubei on Monday.
Wei Wenhua, general manager of a Tianmen City construction firm, was driving past the site when he saw the clash between the villagers and more than 20 security personnel officers from the city administration, said his colleague Wang Shutang, who was in the car with him.
He infuriated the officers when he got out of the car to record the scene with his cell phone. They beat him up when he refused to delete the images, Wang said.
The beating continued after Wei gave up his phone, until he passed out.
Doctors said he had stopped breathing when he was sent to the No. 1 People's Hospital in Tianmen.
At least five villagers in Wanba Village of Jingling Township were injured in the clash, said Li Xiaoming, a Tianmen City government spokesman.
An injured villager, surnamed Li, said they were trying to veto the city administration's plan to turn wasteland near their village into a garbage dump.
Two years of dumping had left an unpleasant odor in their homes and even contaminated drinking water, villagers said.
When they tried to prevent a garbage truck from dumping at around 4:30 p.m. on Monday, dozens of parapolice moved in.
The local government said police were investigating the accident, which occurred barely a week after a group of city administrators attacked a man in the central Henan Province only because he had parked his truck in the wrong place and blocked the way of a parapolice wagon.
The two accidents had caused widespread discontent among the public. The news of Wei's death, published on the website sina.com, was followed by nearly 8,200 comments by 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
Many Internet users urged tougher punishment on the offenders. Some suggested the parapolice law enforcement arm should be eliminated.
The law enforcers in the city administration were in an embarrassing situation themselves. Many people couldn't distinguish between them and the police. The city administratorí»s job was widely known for its role in ridding the streets of illegal snack stands, pirated DVD vendors, beggars and distributors of commercial leaflets.
Whenever a parapolice wagon pulled over and a group of uniformed officers came out, vendors would scurry away in their trucks, bikes or tricycles, often leaving behind fruit, vegetables, snacks and toys.
In August 2006, a stressed-out sausage seller in Beijing waved a knife at an officer who had threatened to confiscate all his wares and his new tricycle, which he had bought with borrowed money.
The officer died and was named a hero. The vendor, 23-year-old Cui Yingjie, was sentenced to death with two year's reprieve.
The tragedy was just one extreme case of the endless conflicts between the law enforcement officers and peddlers. Sometimes bystanders were also involved; either by voicing sympathy for the peddlers and protesting against the law enforcement or by falling victims themselves.
A doggerel spread on the Internet best described the conflict: While police dealt with the "bad eggs" and market regulators watched the rich, the parapolice was always finding fault with the poor.
This was obviously not their real objective.
Law enforcement teams were established within the urban administrations of many Chinese cities from 1997 to deal with street peddlers who evaded taxes and messed up urban streets.
They were also responsible for maintaining public facilities, ranging from phone booths and manholes, banning spitting and littering in public and stopping construction sites from making too much noise at night.
"If the city is like a big family, then we're its housekeeper," said Xiao Kehe, director of the law enforcement bureau with the municipal administration in Xiangtan, a city in central Hunan Province.
Their scope of responsibility, as a result, kept expanding whenever new problems popped up in a city's administration.
Xu Fei, an IT professional in the Zhongguancun high-tech zone of western Beijing, buys a lunch box at an unlicensed stand close to his office every day.
Food served at the staff canteen of his office building was expensive and unsavory, he said. "A lunch box with rice and two dishes was half the price."
All the street vendors have their specialities, selling fruits, vegetables or sweet potatoes, among others.
Researcher Zhang Yun with the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences said the vendors made an average of 1,500 yuan (200 U.S. dollars) a month, while to lease a stand at a market cost about the same amount.
"It's unlawful to evade taxes, but the problems behind their offenses are how the government should help the unemployed and low-income groups," he said.
Professor Ma Huaide, a specialist on administrative law, said urban administrator's law enforcement must not harm the interests of the people.
"Whether they need to set up a garbage dump or wipeout street vendors, these are all issues concerning the rights and interest of the people," he said.
Policy makers should take into consideration the needs of the people in order to avoid conflicts with law enforcers, he said.