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Calling the police or not

Posted by Patricia Wen, Globe Staff  August 16, 2008 01:09 PM

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CHAOYANG PARK RESTAURANT ROW -- I saw the most disturbing sight tonight after passing through the brightly-lit restaurant district near Chaoyang Park. It was just after 10:30 p.m.(Beijing time on Saturday) when I heard this stocky Asian man shouting at random people. Near him was an Asian young woman curled up in a ball on the sidewalk. Another Asian guy (with blonde-dyed hair) stood near the woman.

The woman was clearly in distress, and upon closer examination it was clear she'd been vomiting -- perhaps drunk. The shouter kept yelling at concerned onlookers, even sometimes walking to within inches of their face. I couldn't make out what he was saying, but some restaurant workers smoking outside said he was telling people to stop looking at him. After scolding onlookers, the shouter approached the blonde Asian, yelled more, and began slapping him. The blonde Asian just stood there, near the curled-up woman, and took the slaps without reacting.

Perhaps what was even more bizarre was the reaction of the crowd. The dozen or so Chinese observers looked the other way, as if obeying the screaming man. About four Western tourists, who happened to stop by, were clearly upset but didn't know what to do. I went into the closest restaurant and, in Chinese, asked why they didn't intervene in the frightening scene outside. A waitress just told me to ignore it because the woman was drunk and it would do more harm to say anything.

I wondered if she was right, but then the guy kept yelling and slapping - and then kicking - the blonde Asian. The blonde just stood there. The woman remained on the ground. At this scene along the restaurant row of Chaoyang Road West Road near the Number 8 Apartments, more Chinese passersby began stopping. Still, nobody did a thing. The scene seemed to be escalating, and I just couldn't bear it. The woman on the ground just looked so pathetic - and actually sick.

For this Olympic-hosting city that has swelled with police officers, soldiers and security volunteers, I suddenly couldn't find a single one. Then I saw a man in a green soldier-like uniform, and I pulled him over. "Why don't you stop them?" I asked. He went over to the shouting man -- but then turned back as if defeated. "There's nothing I can do," he said. I told him to call the police. He said he didn't have a phone. I offered him my cell phone. He rejected it.

Some Chinese restaurant workers, who had stepped outside, told me not to worry. They said the trio was Korean, and the yeller just wanted everyone to go away.
Yet they were impossible to ignore. The screaming, slapping and kicking was continuing and the situation was clearly getting out of control. I couldn't tell if I was crossing some cultural boundary by calling the police (though I realized I didn't know the number), but I couldn't just walk away.

A pair of foreigners, who seemed to live in this upscale Beijing neighborhood, strolled by. One said the Chinese observers weren't getting involved because if they were seen intervening, while the police came, they would be whisked away too. I suggested we find a way to call the police. The other foreigner, who spoke impeccable Chinese, agreed - and knew the phone number was 110. I gave her my cell phone to call. She told police the exact location and, smartly, that there were a lot of foreigner watching the chaos.

About five minutes later around 10:50 p.m., two police cruisers with flashing lights came by. Several officers emerged. After a minor scuffle, the shouter's voice quieted. The woman stood up, barely. The police took the pair into the cruiser. The blonde Asian was allowed to go free.

The scene quieted down. The restaurant workers went back to their jobs, the foreigners went on their different ways I got into a cab and returned to my hotel - and hoped it was the right thing to call the police.

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4 comments so far...
  1. Kitty Genovese syndrome? Although no one was calling for help. Good to know citizens in China are just like citizens in America when it comes to public violence. "It's none of my business. I am exempt from any responsibility."

    Posted by Sam August 16, 08 11:56 PM
  1. Kitty Genovese syndrome? Although no one was calling for help. Good to know citizens in China are just like citizens in America when it comes to public violence. "It's none of my business. I am exempt from any responsibility."

    Posted by Sam August 17, 08 12:18 AM
  1. Kitty Genovese syndrome? Although no one was calling for help. Good to know citizens in China are just like citizens in America when it comes to public violence. "It's none of my business. I am exempt from any responsibility."

    Posted by Sam August 17, 08 12:25 AM
  1. Patricia, nothing wrong with calling the police. I am Chinese, and there is no cultural reason that I am ware of why onlookers would not summon the police. My guess is that they are not used to calling the police for such "minor" disturbance in their mind. People would call police if they perceive that a crime is committed, for example, if a pocket picker is caught.

    Posted by JL August 17, 08 02:08 PM
 

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