Tiananmen Tank Man was disobeying lawful orders and should have been shot

I don’t understand American admiration of the lone man who stood in the path of a tank in the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 – that is, unless you are a police-hating American. If you are an American who hates, dislikes, or mistrusts police or outright advocates the abolition of government police, then certainly I can understand why the famous image of a lone man standing against uniformed authority would be an inspirational one.

But most of you are not, so there’s no reason you should feel any sort of reverence for the Chinese man at Tiananmen Square, who dared defy authority. In America, people regularly resist authority for a variety of reasons, and do so without any aggression or violence – very much in the same manner as the Tiananmen Tank Man.

84-year-old Dorli Rainey participated in an Occupy protest and allegedly refused to disperse when police commanded her to.  Cal students linked arms in an Occupy protest and refused to move when asked by police to do so. Similarly, UC Davis students recently refused to move and sat with their arms linked, after being commanded by police to do so. Ms. Rainey was pepper-sprayed in the face. Berkeley students were beaten with batons. Davis students were also sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Other times, people refuse to obey lawful orders or defy authority for other reasons. Oscar Grant resisted arrest and was shot in the back as a result. Jonathan Villareal refused to pull up his pants when an officer commanded him to and was beaten as a result of his unwise fashion statement. John Williams refused to obey a lawful order for the mere reason that he was half deaf and didn’t know what was going on; he was shot and killed by Ian Birk. Neli Latson refused to comply with a wrongful arrest and was sentenced to years in prison. Jeremy Marks, a high school student who recorded footage of an abusive officer beating up a classmate, was jailed and faced up to 18 years in prison.

So, the question is, why is the Tank Man such a big fucking deal? Because the examples above don’t seem to really bother most Americans. The people mentioned above who were beaten, abused, or killed are regularly written off by the public and the media as dirty hippies, idiots, or people who disobeyed lawful orders who were rightfully punished.

Tank Man wasn’t beaten, and certainly wasn’t mowed over by the tank. He probably didn’t even die (more here). Is Chinese life more valuable than American life? Is that why it’s such a big deal that some dude stood up against a tank and uniformed assholes in China, but when Americans are regularly beaten or killed for defying uniformed authority, it’s accepted as a matter of course? Let’s not be racist. Let us be fair, and let us be real. Tank Man was disobeying lawful orders to get out of the way, in a manner identical to the Berkeley and Davis students.

If we applied American standards to Tank Man, he probably should have been beaten, pepper-sprayed, or shot like a disobedient American would have been. If we apply American law enforcement standards to Tank Man, we should be wondering why he wasn’t duly punished for his arrogant refusal to obey authority, instead of lionizing him as some brave activist.

Or perhaps the racism works the other way. When the Chinese government abuses people, it is horrifying, and any resistance of dirty commie Chink authority is viewed as courageous and heroic, but when Americans dare defy the infallible, righteous American government, they are clearly deserving of violence or death.


Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.