by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 玄史生/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

POLICE BRUTALITY HAS become discussed in Taiwan after an incident involving police beating a man causing a disturbance in a 7/11. The 7/11 was located in Zhongli, Taoyuan.

In media discourse, the event has popularly been referred to as the “Hulk incident.” In the course of an incident, 28-year-old hobbyist bodybuilder surnamed Chu began to talk to himself and knock over shelves in a 7/11, prompting the store clerk to call the police. After two police officers respond, Chu hits the two officers in the face but is sprayed with pepper spray.

Later on, Chu is subdued and lays on the ground in front of the street, but continues to be hit by a police officer 12 times with a baton. Chu does not resist, but tries to protect his head as he bleeds, cries out that the police officers are hurting him, and is hit with enough force that the baton shatters.

Screenshot from the first of the clips during the incident

It is primarily two clips recorded by cell phone that caused the incident to go viral and become widely known. In the first clip, which is 12 seconds long, the man tussles with the police officers, and at one point flexes and yells. This is why the incident has become referred to as the “Hulk incident,” as Chu is shirtless and his muscles are visible. This clip ends when the 7/11 clerk runs outside of the store and asks the man to stop filming. It is the second clip that shows the police officer beating the man after he is subdued.

The police officer that beat Chu with the baton, surnamed Wang, is being investigated on charges of assault. Wang is to receive demerits for his actions, along with the head of the station, and the other officer that responded has been warned twice. Chu was detained and will face charges including property destruction and assaulting public officials, but was later released on 50,000 NT bail.

Despite the serious nature of the violence that occurred during the incident, much media coverage has made light of the incident. Taiwanese media routinely covers violent acts in society with a breezy and gossipy tone.

Taiwanese society diverges in its view of what took place, with some taking the view that the police’s actions were justified, while others proving critical of police brutality. The Zhongli police claims that Wang lost control of his emotions after Chu continued to threaten the police officers that he would kill them after being subdued.

It has been reported that a number of police officers in northern Taiwan are unhappy about the demerits and may take action to demonstrate their displeasure from June 1st to June 4th through organized protest. This, too, may stand to color social perceptions of the incident.

In particular, there has been increased discussion of what measures should be available to police to defend themselves after two police officers were stabbed to death in Tainan in August 2022. In the wake of the stabbings, some called for rules to be loosened to allow officers to open fire, eventually resulting in laws being passed to the effect in the legislature. This frames part of the reaction against punishments for the involved police officers.

But one notes that the more recent incident would not have been widely discussed if not for the video that was taken, and that there have been a number of incidents involving police violence in past years. Other controversial incidents involving police violence in past years often were discussed because recordings went viral, such as an April 2021 incident, also in Zhongli, in which a police officer attacked a music teacher walking near the Zhongli train station. The officer in question suspected her of being a “runaway” migrant worker and when the music teacher responded by calling him an idiot, he threw her to the ground and violently restrained her.

By contrast, there has been less discussion of incidents not recorded on video. One case in point includes the shooting death of 27-year-old Vietnamese migrant worker Nguyen Quoc Phi in August 2017. Police claimed that Nguyen was attempting to break into a car and attacked them with rocks, but their reaction was to respond with deadly force, shooting Nguyen nine times. Nguyen’s death was recently the subject of a documentary, “And Miles to Go Before I Sleep,” which won the 2022 award for Best Documentary at the Golden Horse Film Festival. The documentary highlights that police sought to keep footage of the incident out of the eyes of the public, particularly since police did not aid Nguyen as he was shot and lay bleeding on the ground.

Photo credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Nevertheless, there has been relatively little discussion of how the incident perhaps shows police officers failing to respond to a breakdown responsibly, and instead reacting with violent force to a possible mental health crisis. Social discussion has primarily focused on the incident only in terms of police violence, with less focus on the mental health angle.

Police continue to occupy an esteemed social position in Taiwanese society, with police framed as defenders of law and order. During labor protests, there are calls for allowing police to unionize, never mind what the results of this have been in other parts of the world. To this extent, one notes that Taiwan was formerly an authoritarian country, and that police served as enforcers of the authoritarian state during this period. Footage of violent acts by police often went missing during this period, and a number of individuals currently on death row in Taiwan were tortured by police, with critical evidence having seemingly gone missing for police to cover up acts of wrongdoing.

As such, it may not be surprising that there will be some who respond to Chu’s beating by siding with the police. Consequently, it is to be questioned whether social discussion around the incident can lead to calls for greater accountability from police.

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