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Saturday Feature
 
Should a 'violent' moneylender have been shot dead?
12/3/2005
 

          A recent case in the media spotlight started when an angry moneylender named Jiang Yunchun rushed into the house of his debtor, Zhang Fenglin, and demanded repayment. It happened on an early September morning in a residential community at Lanzhou, Gansu. The debtor's wife immediately called the police, claiming that Jiang was laden with explosives. Following the instruction of police, Zhang's wife gave Jiang 30,000 yuan ($3,623) to calm him down. Hours later, when Jiang left the community with money, a sniper with the Lanzhou police force shot him dead. Afterward, relatives of the dead moneylender denied that he had any explosives.
Responding to accusations and questioning, the Lanzhou Public Security Bureau noted that if Jiang had really carried explosives, the aftermath would be disastrous if he had walked downtown. Because of this, they justify the shooting. The police later admitted that what was thought to be explosives turned out to be a thermos. The police also admitted that, in the hours of the confrontation, policemen had neither entered the house nor tried to persuade Jiang to remove explosives.
In October, Lanzhou police gave written explanation on Jiang Yunchun's death to his relatives and refused the family's request for administrative reconsideration. According to sources, Jiang's relatives are now filing an application for state compensation.
The incident has aroused wide attention and questions. Some believe the police shot Jiang dead even after the situation had been resolved. They believe it to be an abuse of power, far beyond the realm of self-defence. People who are supportive of police tactics believe it was done out of the sake of public safety and it was necessary when the possibility of explosives could not be excluded.
According to the provisions of Regulations on Police's Use of Weapons, policemen can use fire arms only when they can ascertain that the result will create a serious infringement on public security, such as an explosion. Police use weapons on the principle that personal deaths and injuries and property damage should be minimal. In recent years, with the increase of violent crime, the incident of Jiang Yunchun has triggered people's drinking about how suspected violent criminals should be treated by the police.
Policemen should not have shot the suspect
Jia Yu, (Vice President of Northwest University of Political Science and Law): The action of police in Lanzhou is by all means improper. After being placed on high alert by a report of the so-called victim, the police did a lot preparatory work, including summoning up a sniper to shoot the suspected criminal when necessary. These were all constructive, a] though it turned out that Jiang did not have explosives with him. The situation dictated that the police consider two scenarios. First, Jiang Yunchun had explosives, which he could ignite at any time. Second, Jiang lied about carrying explosives to threaten his debtor. But Jiang should not be shot dead under either situation.
Under the worse hypothetical scenario --had there were explosives on Jiang Yunchun-then Jiang was a great danger when he was at Zhang's apartment. At that time, the police were justified to take any action they deemed necessary when attempts at negotiating with Jiang failed. However, when Jiang had walked out of Zhang's apartment with the money, he had given up using explosives as threat and the police had other alternatives to shooting him. Shooting him under such circumstances is against the preconditions for justifiable homicide.
Life, including that of suspect criminals, is the most precious thing. If the police intend to kill anyone, it should go through a strict and complicated decision-making process. In China, the right of life is highly respected by state and society. Even for those who have committed a felony, their life can be taken away after two trials. The police showed a respect for life in the initial stage, but later they failed to give enough respect to Jiang's life.
In terms of legislation, the shooting has gone beyond the limit of justifiable defence. 'Me most important precondition for justifiable defense is substantive unlawful infringement on public safety. 'Mere was no substantive unlawful infringement when Jiang was shot dead (especially since he was out of Zhang's house). The judgment of police was made according to conjecture, whether it was based on description of victims or their own observation. If we project that police went beyond the limit of justifiable defense due to a miscalculation, then they had conducted a preemptive defense.
Then how to judge the responsibility of the police in case of preemptive defense? The first question to consider is whether a police officer kills someone intentionally or not? If the answer is yes, this action constitutes an intentional crime. If the answer is no, this action belongs to criminal negligence. Besides these two situations, the third situation is that the police officer is neither intentional nor negligent; then the resultant loss of life is an accident, for both the victim and the police officer. The compensation of loss will be repaid through civil procedures.
As for Jiang's case, the first thing to investigate is whether the sniper shot Jiang of his own free will, under the instruction of the commander or in accordance with arrangements made beforehand. If what the media reports are true, the police in Lanzhou committed an act of criminal negligence. If a police commander ordered the sniper to shoot Jiang out of fear of being responsible for an explosion, it might be considered an abuse of power.
Since a life was lost in this case and the commander was a high-ranking police officer, an investigation team should be set up by police to conduct an investigation and tell the public the truth.
Zhang Dongsheng (Lawyer of Yongjiaxin Law Firm): Under current Chinese law, police can shoot someone dead lawfully only under two situations: First, after going through strict trial procedures; second, in accordance with the right conferred by Criminal Law. According to related provisions of People's Police Law and Regulations on Police's Use of Weapons, police have the right to shoot suspected criminals dead out of the need for defense.
Everyone is equal in terms of life. A victims' life should not enjoy superior protection just because he is a victim, nor should a suspected criminal's life be ignored. The right of life is paramount. Police have both the right and the duty to defend the public. Failure to protect a citizens' life is negligence, or can even constitute a crime.
When Jiang was shot dead, the situations on the spot had two characteristics. First, the police were not sure whether Jiang had explosives on him. When he walked out of Zhang's apartment, the so-called "abduction" had ended. The danger of Jiang's ignition of explosive was reduced by a large margin if not totally eliminated. Second, residents of that community were evacuated after the police suspected that explosives were powerful enough to destroy a whole building. At that time, no person's life was in danger. According to the conditions for self-defense, a suspected criminal can be shot dead only when people's lives are endangered. Shooting Jiang Yunchun clearly exceeded the limits of self-defense.
Gong Xiaoya (Policeman, Xi'an Public Security Bureau): In China, a person's fight to life is dealt with very prudently. Capital punishment of criminals, including those with little regard to humanity, must be rechecked and ratified by the Supreme People's Court. The police force of Lanzhou could be charged with power abuse for shooting Jiang dead without any confirmable evidence of Jiang's threat to ignite explosives and for ignoring police warnings. The police have the lawful right to use weapons when suspected criminals greatly endanger people's safety and life and refuse to follow police's warnings. But this right must be enforced according to law, rather than abused. We cannot demand that police should know whether Jiang had explosives on him, since it is too difficult to judge. At least, however, the police should know whether Jiang was threatening to ignite explosives, which is the key to judging whether it is proper to shoot the suspected criminal.
Shooting Suspected Criminal Justified
Cao Jun (Deputy Director of Publicity Department of Lanzhou Public Security Bureau): If Jiang Yunchun had really carried explosives, the aftermath would have been disastrous since he was walking toward the city's downtown area. Thus the decision to shoot Jiang made by the on-site commander was well justified.
Since Jiang, at that time, claimed he still had explosives on him, police lawfully perform their duty by shooting him to avoid the severe loss of innocent citizens. This move is consistent with provisions of People's Police Law and Regulations on Police's Use of Weapons.
Li Yuming (Worker of Hongdu Machinery Plant): Police were justified to shoot Jiang, since his deeds had already threatened the lives of many people nearby. What the police did is none other than protect innocent lives.
Beijing Review

 

 
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