I first met Wang Yun-hsiang (王雲祥) during a large protest against the destruction of houses in Taipei’s Huaguang Community (華光) in April this year. In fact, I did not even know his name when I took a photograph of the young man, the red letters on his T-shirt reading “street fight,” as he was being whisked away by police officers.
On that day, the Taipei City Government had moved in and bulldozed a number of houses and commercial establishments, claiming the residents had lived there illegally. From the rubble of Huaguang, city officials promised that a sparkling new complex for the rich would sprout, while the few human remnants were scattered to the winds, the tight knots of a community, formed over decades, severed forever.
As he was escorted right past me, where I stood on the tracks of an excavator, snapping pictures, Wang looked straight ahead, a light of defiance in his eyes that, when I met him again weeks, months later, had not died out. The young man was arrested that day, and his summons to court was last week. According to court documents, Wang was found guilty of obstructing the work of police officers in their line of duty. Using video footage, he contends that all he did that day was to try to mediate between another protester and police officers who were taking him away.
Was Wang, like others, involved in physical clashes with the hundreds of police officers who had been deployed to protect construction — strike that, demolition — workers as they perpetrated state-sanctioned violence against the poor, the elderly and the infirm? Maybe. Since I was behind the police lines, one of the few individuals allowed in, thanks to my press credentials, I did not directly witness what happened in the melee. However, on that fateful day, Wang and hundreds of others were fighting for their ideals, and for a just resolution to the years-long conflict.
The court sentenced Wang to 100 hours of community service so that he could “improve his behavior” and become a “better citizen.”
When I first heard of the ruling, my first reaction was to ask: Has not Wang already done a lot more than 100 hours of community service, standing on the side of the weak and vulnerable against the vultures bearing the masks of “modernity” and “development?” Did not any of his actions, not only at Huaguang, but also in Yuanli (苑裡) and Dapu (大埔), both in Miaoli County, where he and others were roughed up, intimidated and threatened by police and thugs as they once again attempted to erect a line against injustice, constitute time served? And above all, how could a judicial system presume to make Wang into a “better citizen” through community service when his very actions were inspired and motivated by the noblest of motives, when those at fault were not the protesters and the victims, but the government itself, a force that is evidently in cahoots with developers and that has grown increasingly disconnected from the needs and fears of its citizens?
Wang took the hit, and the very next day, undeterred, he was at it again, this time participating in a protest in front of the Presidential Office just as the bulldozers were moving in in Dapu. No sooner had he pointed his nose in front of the seat of power, where hundreds had gathered, than the police pushed him back, clear evidence that he was being singled out.