LETTER

Sun, Aug 24, 2008 - Page 8

Justice, Taichung-style

While the Taiwanese judicial system is busy prosecuting the Chen family, justice as a lived reality on the streets of Taichung took a sad and predictable turn this week.

A foreigner, fired upon with a BB gun, accosted the assailant, who then shot him seven times, including three times in the face. The victim used the assailant’s gun case as protection and then, when close enough, hit the shooter with the case.

The assailant ran to his parked SUV, produced a 9mm hand pistol and pointed it at the victim. After questioning the authenticity of the weapon, the assailant pulled out the clip to prove that it was real, whereupon the victim grabbed the clip and threw it into the canal.

The angered assailant then threatened to shoot the foreigner with the remaining bullet. A nearby sausage vendor with a clear view of the incident refused to help or intervene.

When the police arrived, they did not carry out a full forensic search of the assailant’s vehicle and they passed around evidence without gloves, even permitting the assailant to handle it at times. They did not question the assailant’s girlfriend or the sausage vendor.

The foreigner did not have his statement taken for more than six hours. In the meantime, the assailant gave a statement and was allowed to fall asleep two tables away from the pistol and single bullet, lying unsecured.

Later in the morning, the assailant sued the victim for damage to his property (the illegal clip of ammunition) and insulting behavior.

The foreigner was asked to sign an admission that he was an active criminal involved in an assault. This was part of a form that would allow him to press charges against the assailant.

Paradoxically, the prosecutor for the case was more sympathetic than the legal counsel, who mainly acted as a translator in the courtroom.

In court, a judge repeated the charges. Despite a sense that a threat on his life was not being taken seriously, the foreigner chose to defend himself and argued his case well enough to be cleared of all charges.

The judge ordered the assailant to give the victim compensation, to be agreed by negotiation, but then — unbelievably — the legal counsel wanted to give the victim’s phone number to the assailant so that he could discuss compensation directly.

As a result of being shot on a quiet night in the center of Taichung, this foreigner also lost his job when his school’s administrators, supposedly fearful of gang-related retaliation, canceled his work permit. He may now have to leave Taiwan.

With Taichung again rated as Taiwan’s most crime-ridden city, its mayor’s pride in his accomplishments and his description of it as retaining “friendliness and warm-heartedness” seem out of sync and prematurely self-congratulatory.

We need to look beyond these rhetorical flourishes and diversionary sound bites and hold leaders to account for the grimy reality they tolerate, not the one that their spin would have us believe.

BEN GOREN

Baojhong, Yunlin County