Six urban management officers in south-central China were detained yesterday by local police on suspicion of intentionally harming others after a watermelon vendor died in a conflict with the city code enforcers.
A man from the Linwu County police in Hunan Province confirmed the detentions, as reported by the official Xinhua news agency, but he declined to give his name, which is common among low-ranking Chinese bureaucrats.
China’s public have long resented the heavy-handed tactics of the urban management officers, known as chengguan (城管). They are often accused of beating people who commit minor infractions in shows of power that have fueled social tension.
On Wednesday, city code enforcers in Linwu accused the watermelon farmer, Deng Zhengjia (鄧正加), of selling his goods without a license and fined him 100 yuan (US$16), according to state media reports.
Later Deng and his wife, Huang Xixi, moved their watermelon stand to another venue, but the enforcers arrived and a quarrel ensued.
Eyewitnesses told state media that the enforcers beat Deng and his wife and that Deng was later seen lying on the ground, motionless.
Similar incidents in other parts of China have resulted in large protests and confrontations between residents and government officials.
In a written statement, Linwu County said Deng and Huang were selling watermelons in an area that was not designated for that and were uncooperative when the city code enforcers told the couple to move their stand to a designated area. It said the enforcers confiscated four watermelons and left the scene.
When the patrolling enforcers encountered the couple at the new venue later, Deng and Huang swore at them and the officers felt compelled to argue, the county statement said.
“The argument between the two sides developed into physical confrontations, and during the process, Deng Zhengjia suddenly fell and died,” the statement said.
Xinhua said the local authorities have sought help from officials in another province to determine the cause of Deng’s death.