Here’s the first paragraph of an article I published last week at the Dissent magazine website, on the chengguan, or “urban management,” units that patrol cities like Shanghai. Chengguan have been in the news recently after the death of a produce vendor at the hands of one such para-police unit.

I didn’t notice the apple seller at first. I was walking east on Shanghai’s Changle Street—the Street of Eternal Happiness—mentally making a list of all the things I needed to do to fix up the apartment I had moved into the day before, while the fruit vendor slowly pedaled his tricycle cart in the road ahead of me. Preoccupied, I might never have taken note of the man if not for the white station wagon with a shield painted on the side that slowed down and stopped behind him. Four men jumped out of the car and rushed at the tricycle cart; in a flash, before I could even fully absorb what was happening in front of me, the men had overturned it and knocked the apple seller to the ground. Apples rolled everywhere, scattering across the street like hundreds of billiard balls, while the men briefly yelled at the silent vendor and then got back in their station wagon and drove away. The entire incident lasted under two minutes.

Read the full article here.