Discourse about police within the Sunflower Movement ranged between many discursive poles. Namely, sometimes police were heavily criticized as the perpetrators of “state violence,” as wholly willing to carry out the brutal suppression of peaceful demonstrators on behalf of the government. Some claimed that this was not so different from the notion of the “banality of evil”, advocated by Hannah Arendt, after events such as the use of police force on youth demonstrators following the attempted occupation of the Executive Yuan, or otherwise insist on the illegality of police actions. Contrastingly, from opponents of the Sunflower Movement, sometimes the claim was that police were hardworking members of society, the defenders of public order, who were being overburdened by the irresponsible actions of student occupiers and police were fully within their rights within their actions.
Photo credit: 432_P/Flickr/CC
A mixture of these claims can be found in the claim that police were unable to stand up against their superiors and unwillingly had to carry out violence against young students. The poster, “Underneath the uniform, we are all Taiwanese” appeared throughout the occupation site, for example. Some called on police to be allowed to form their own union, which they are currently unable to by law, in order to be able more firmly resist the unjust orders of their superiors. Demonstrators also attached messages for police on notes attached to razor wire fences around government buildings during the movement.
In particular, some claim the Sunflower Movement was the largest concerted police action since the end of martial law in Taiwan. Particularly shocking for many was the firing of high-power water cannons against peaceful demonstrators or allow gangsters who had come with “White Wolf” Chang An-Lo (張安樂) to assault student demonstrators while taking little actions. Or that the police would seemingly be so petty as to deny occupiers of the Legislative Yuan access to a bathroom or forced students to move in and out of the Legislative Yuan through a window opening which they could have fallen from and severely injured themselves. Some police photographed using extreme force during the occupation in attempts to drive out students, such as during 324, were not held responsible after the movement.
Photo credit: Y.H. Kao/Flickr/CC
Yet police were highly venerated during authoritarian times as the protectors of public order, and such views of the police continue to exist in post-authoritarian Taiwan. It is not surprisingly that there were highly divided views of police actions during the Sunflower Movement, then, even among occupiers themselves. Obviously it is that the police are the force in society with a monopoly on legitimate violence, as posited by Weber. And so shocked accusations of “state violence” (國家暴力) seem somewhat naive about the role of the police as the muscle which backs up the state’s might.
However, there were in fact some individuals who were participants in the Sunflower Movement while wearing clothing which obscured their faces, claiming to be off duty police officers otherwise support of the movement. This does not seem implausible, seeing as even former Taiwanese special forces were among the supporters of the movement, serving as members of the Legislative Yuan’s security team.
At other points, members of the security team within the Legislative Yuan became strangely friendly with police that they were ostensibly up again, securing agreements with police not to cross certain lines, and allowing police to even rest within the Legislative Yuan if they agreed to certain rules. At other times, members of the security team would encounter issues with police transferred in from other parts of Taiwan who were not aware of such regulations. There were rumors that higher-ups used police from outside Taipei in order prevent police from becoming too sympathetic to students.
Later on, to address such controversies, an investigation working group, the “324 Truth And Reconciliation Working Group” would be formed by National Taiwan University sociology department Ph. D student Lin Chuan-Kai (林傳凱), who had been one of the organizers of the Department of Social Sciences Group, and who was a researcher into the history of the White Terror. This group conducted over 60 interviews and produced a report on the events of 324, released on the two year anniversary of 324 in 2016. This investigation group, in part, sought to gather facts about police violence for future legal evidence, in cooperation with the Judicial Reform Foundation, and ultimately was critical of what it viewed as state violence in its report.
Read More About The Role Of The Police In The Sunflower Movement: