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"One thing we ought particularly to guard against is the development of the mob spirit. When is an individual not an individual? A foolish question, maybe, but the answer is, When he is in a crowd. By a crowd we usually mean a considerable number of people assembled in one place. If that crowd has become excited and is carried away by a spirit of vengeance or destructiveness, it becomes a mob."
from "Today's Problems," 1949, a school textbook once in wide use in America.
"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience [has] shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."
— Thomas Jefferson



Economic Violence
DONGZHOU, GUANGDONG DECEMBER 7-9, 2005 — When is police action acceptable? And if that action leads to a government firing guns at its own people does that represent a threshold that governing authorities dare cross at the risk of a popular uprising?

American guns in the hands of city, state, and federal police, National Guardsmen, and military troops have shot at American crowds throughout its history.

The most recent direct comparison to the police action last week in China is the so-called "Memorial Day Massacre" of 1937 outside Chicago.

A large group of steelworkers on strike marched to a steel mill and confronted police. The police claimed self-defense against the mob and fired on the crowd. Five protesters died at the scene and as many more afterward. Most were shot in the back as they ran from the police.

The last time a protest led to government gunfire in the USA was at Kent State University in 1970 when jittery National Guardsmen fired on university students after three days of protest against the Vietnam war.

Last week, overwhelmed provincial police of Shanwei county, Guangdong, fired their guns at protesters, mostly rural residents of Dongzhou village shortchanged by local officials in a pay out for land taken in eminent domain for a power plant. The villagers began their protest in late October.

Earlier in October police in Tanzania opened fire on a crowd. In September police fired on crowds in Indonesia.

And on December 2, only a few days before the events at Dongzhou, police in Cairo fired on a crowd during the election in Egypt killing at least one person. This police action has received far less attention in the world press than China's "killer cops".

There are numerous recent examples of protests ended by what Napoleon famously called a "whiff of grapeshot" — Paris 1962 and 1968, Mexico City 1968, Tiananmen Square 1989, and Moscow 1993 are some famous ones.

So common are these police actions that they are soon forgotten. How many remember last year in southern Thailand when police fired on Muslim protesters and as many as 20 were killed?

The governments involved in all the actions mentioned here did not fall nor did the actions of police cause a popular revolution.

Police actions that end in violence are not rare. So important is a government's need to maintain law and order that it sanctions such police actions as a form of terrorism with which to assert control over a group or groups of people, a segment of a society, or even whole populations.

©2005 Ben Calmes for Sinomania!

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