Chinese Riot Over Handling of Girl’s Killing
BEIJING — Thousands of people have rioted in a county in southwest China, setting fire to government buildings and overturning cars in angry protests over the official handling of the death of a local teenage girl, according to a human rights group, state news media and videotapes of the events.
The protests in the county of Weng’an in Guizhou Province are another reminder of how quickly public anger can ignite in China over cases of perceived official corruption and malfeasance. For the past few years, public discontent has erupted into small demonstrations and violence across the country.
The protests in Weng’an on Saturday appear to have been larger, reportedly involving thousands of residents, including children. News agencies reported that protesters clashed with paramilitary police officers sent to the county.
In March, thousands of paramilitary police were sent to quell violent anti-Chinese demonstrations in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Videos from Weng’an posted on YouTube showed groups of protesters standing and watching as fires engulfed a local government building.
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a Hong Kong-based human rights group, reported that the riot was incited by the case of a teenage girl who was reportedly raped and murdered.
Relatives of the 16-year-old girl blamed the local police for a shoddy investigation and also claimed possible corruption, the group reported. The family said the teenager disappeared after being seen with two young men with family ties to the local public security bureau, the report said.
By Saturday, the human rights group reported, about 500 middle school students had gone to protest at the public security bureau. But the students were turned away and beaten, a move that immediately roused an angry mob of thousands of people who began setting fire to buildings and overturning cars.
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported that one person died, 150 were injured and 200 were detained. Officials in the province could not be reached to confirm these figures.
By Sunday morning, a local resident told The Associated Press that the police were using megaphones to urge the crowds to leave while local television channels were calling on people involved in the protests to surrender to the authorities.
“Thick black smoke billowed everywhere,” one resident told The Associated Press. “The incident shows that the social order around here is not stable.”
The state-run news agency Xinhua confirmed the violence in a brief article and said the situation had stabilized. Referring to the investigation into the girl’s death, the news agency reported, “Some people who did not know about the exact context of what had happened were instigated to mob the police station and the office buildings of the county government and Communist Party committee.”
The demonstrations were less than six weeks before Beijing hosts the Olympic Games, and security officials are deeply worried about potential outbreaks of unrest across China.
In California, Protests After Man Dies at Hands of Transit Police
OAKLAND, Calif. — Protesters angry over a deadly shooting of a young unarmed black man on New Year’s Day stampeded through city streets on Wednesday night, burning cars and smashing storefronts and leading to pleas from city officials on Thursday for patience and calm.
About 120 people were arrested during the violent outburst on Wednesday, which came after a day of demonstrations over the shooting of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old butcher’s apprentice who was shot in the back by a transit system police officer while he lay on the platform at the Fruitvale Station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
“My message is, cool it out there, folks,” Mayor Ron V. Dellums said. “This is not a game.”
On Wednesday night, police officers in riot gear responded with tear gas and nightsticks, and arrested protesters on charges of vandalism, unlawful assembly, rioting and assault on a police officer. Two people were arrested in possession of handguns. Dozens others were cited and released, said Wayne Tucker, the city’s chief of police.
The police chief for BART, Gary Gee, said that transit police detectives were still compiling clues in the shooting, which occurred after Mr. Grant and a group of friends were removed from an eastbound train in the wake of a fight among two groups leaving a New Year’s Eve celebration in San Francisco.
At least four cell phone cameras held by passengers on the train idling next to the platform captured images of Mr. Grant lying face down when Transit Officer Johannes Mehserle, 27, pulls his gun and fires a single shot. Mr. Mehserle looks up at another officer, and then handcuffs Mr. Grant. The images have been repeatedly broadcast on local television and streamed online.
Christopher Miller, a lawyer for Officer Mehserle, said in a brief statement on Wednesday that the officer’s resignation, which took place on Wednesday, would allow BART to “get back to the business of managing regional transportation,” adding that the officer had the full support of his union, the BART Police Officers Association. But it made no reference to the circumstances of the shooting.
Mr. Mehserle has not been charged with a crime. Investigators said their efforts to interview him about the circumstances of the shooting had been rebuffed by his lawyers, something that has fed complaints that the transit agency and the Alameda County district attorney, Tom Orloff, have each been sluggish in their investigations.
“If you can’t file charges in a case like this,” said John Burris, a lawyer for Mr. Grant’s mother and his live-in girlfriend. “I don’t know what kind of case you can file in.”
At an occasionally unruly press conference at Oakland City Hall on Thursday, just down the block from where a small clutch of protesters set trash cans and cars afire on Wednesday night, Mr. Dellums said that the Oakland Police Department would start a third investigation of the shooting event, which he referred to as a homicide.
Mr. Orloff was more measured in his statements, saying only that such investigations take time and that he hoped to be finished in two weeks.
“I think it’s important that when we move forward we will move forward with a case that is court-ready,” said Mr. Orloff, who was interrupted by demonstrators several times as he tried to speak.
But the district attorney’s timetable seemed unlikely to please residents of Oakland, an ethnically mixed city of 400,000 across the bay from San Francisco. At a public meeting of the transit system’s board, Desley Brooks, an Oakland City Council member, said, “The community does not have confidence in BART investigating itself.”
But a BART spokesman, Linton Johnson, said Thursday that “the worst thing that we could do, the thing that would cause absolute chaos, is if we screwed up this investigation.”
The shooting is just the latest incident in a historically tense relationship between Oakland’s black community and law enforcement, including a corruption case known as the Riders case in which a group of Oakland police officers were accused of abusing and falsely accusing suspects. Three of the officers were acquitted but the incident nevertheless damaged the department’s reputation.
On Thursday morning, several downtown merchants were shoveling shards of glass outside their damaged storefronts and juggling mixed emotions. Thuyen Tran, 24, whose family runs a small nail salon whose front window had been shattered, said he was upset that his family’s business had been damaged but also understood the anger of the protesters.
“It doesn’t make sense, using brutal force,” said Mr. Tran, who is of Vietnamese descent. “It doesn’t feel good, because No. 1, I’m a minority, and No. 2, I’m a young kid.”
Several civic leaders said on Thursday that the violence reflected anger among young people — and particularly young black men — who feel that they are unfair targets of the police.
“The murder of Oscar Grant III was a tragedy and not the first tragedy suffered on the streets of Oakland,” said Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, who called the protests a tipping point “for a community that has been struggling and suffering for decades.”
On Wednesday, several protesters lay prone in front of police, hands behind their backs, saying, “I am Oscar Grant.” Mr. Grant’s name has already begun to be graffitied along highways.
On Thursday, Mr. Grant’s family and friends spoke publicly to condemn the violence.
“I am begging the citizens not to use violent tactics, not to be angry,” said Wanda Johnson, Mr. Grant’s mother. “You’re hurting people that have nothing to do with the situation. Please stop it, just please stop.”