Victim-blaming official provokes more anger in billboard death case

Society & Culture

An official in Zhengzhou, Henan Province has finally made a public statement about a fatal accident two weeks ago, in which an outdoor billboard installer fell to his death after an urban management officer, known as chengguan (城管), removed his ladder without consent.

The tragedy happened on January 23, when two workers hired by a local print store were attempting to install 10 Chinese characters for a billboard on the roof of a three-story building.

After about six hours of construction, a group of officers showed up at the scene and ordered the workers to stop. Although the two immediately consented and began undoing their work, the officers were unhappy with their speed of progress.

“After they waited a while, they decided to take away our tricycle and ladder,” Zhou Kun 周坤, the worker who survived, said in an interview Beijing News. “I pleaded with them multiple times to wait a bit longer and not to remove the ladder, but they didn’t listen to me.”

Around 6 p.m., Zhou’s older and more experienced coworker, who is identified only as Ou, decided to lower himself from the roof using a rope. Zhou said that their employer, the owner of the print shop (a woman surnamed Liu), tried to prevent him from doing this, noting that a newly purchased ladder was on its way. But Ou was cold and would not wait.

Ou fell to his death; a video that circulated online shows the aftermath.

At the time of the accident, Zhou was still stuck at the top of the building. “I wanted to go down to check if Ou was all right, but I was afraid to do so,” Zhou said, adding that his legs were still shaking when firefighters arrived and helped him off the roof at around 9 p.m.

Amid roaring criticism from the public, a local official close to the investigation spoke to media on February 3.

“I firmly believe that those officers didn’t intend to kill the worker when they removed the ladder,” the official said. “Ou was over 30, and he should have had some awareness of safety and danger.”

The interview only ignited another wave of outrage.

In a commentary published on Beijing News, the author notes that while Liu, Ou’s employer, should share responsibility for Ou’s death, the chengguan should bear the brunt of the punishment.

Many internet users argue that the officials who took away the ladder should be charged with murder, as it was their action that resulted directly in Ou’s death.

Internet users were also miffed by why the official would be smoking during the interview when a no-smoking sign was clearly visible behind him.

smoking official

“I don’t intend to kill anyone when I drive drunk,” the most upvoted comment reads, using the same logic underlying the official’s remarks. One internet user replied, “Apparently it’s the one who gets hit by your car who lacks awareness of safety and danger.”

The chengguan involved were disciplined last Sunday; they were dismissed or suspended from their posts, and are being further investigated by a discipline supervision team. The print shop owner, Liu, was also detained.