New York City hasn’t had much success with fining jaywalkers. Rudy Giuliani had a go when he was mayor but made little progress. “I think Rudy tried to ticket jaywalkers,” Giuliani’s successor Michael Bloomberg told a radio talk show in 2012. “But from a practical point of view, the cops aren’t going to do it and the public won’t stand for it. So anyways…”
Have priorities changed?
New mayor Bill de Blasio vowed this month to reduce traffic fatalities, which claimed the lives of 286 New Yorkers last year (just shy of the 333 murders in the city). And within a week the jaywalking crackdown resulted in a major controversy: the hospitalisation of the 84 year-old Chinese owner of a popular restaurant on Broadway.
Kang Chun Wong was strolling across a busy Manhattan street when a policeman stopped him for crossing when the light was red. When the officer tried to write him a ticket, an altercation ensued because of Wong’s limited English.
“The man didn’t seem to understand, and he started walking away. The cop tried to pull him back, and that’s when he began to struggle. As soon as he pushed the cop, it was like cops started running in from everywhere,” a witness told the New York Post.
According to photos that went viral on China’s social media, Wong was left bleeding and dazed from the confrontation. He was then handcuffed and taken to hospital, and later to a police station to be charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.
The incident triggered heated discussion in China’s weibo-sphere. You might expect that much of it would be penned by nationalistic netizens accusing the police of targeting an elderly Chinese. But on the contrary, most of the early comments were unsympathetic, even making jibes about Wong. An online survey by Sina showed that 31% of nearly 30,000 respondents sided with the police because Wong had broken the traffic rules, while only 26% thought the police had overreacted.
“Well deserved” was one of the more popular comments on weibo. Others responded with a thumbs-up or laughing face image.
The view in the traditional press was somewhat different. “What would happen if a jaywalking old man was beaten up by police in China?” the Global Times demanded to know. “Critics would be likely to overwhelmingly attack the violent enforcement. And the officers in question may have to apologise publicly or even to resign.” According to the newspaper, many Chinese have “subconscious double standards” in judging law enforcement in the US and in China.
But others thought netizens weren’t so much focusing on the specifics of Wong’s experience, but rather using it as a way to critique China’s own governing system. “Chinese pedestrians, police, rule of law and even China itself have become the dartboard in this case,” the Qianjiang Evening News suggested.
Little could Bill de Blasio have thought that one of his first initiatives in office would have such a major impact – it’s just a pity that his jaywalking policy seems to have engaged the Chinese more than New Yorkers…
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