The bloodletting here on July 5, in which ethnic Uighurs pummeled and stabbed ethnic Han to death, was just the latest episode in a nationwide upswing in large-scale street violence that had already prompted concerned officials in Beijing to look for new ways to defuse such outbursts. In all of the recent cases, not only were officials and security forces unable to contain the violence, but average people attacked the police en masse — a sign of the profound distrust of local authority throughout much of China.
“In the last several years, the level of violence and speed with which these incidents can turn violent has increased,” said Murray Scot Tanner, an analyst of Chinese security. “It raises a very, very serious question: To what extent are the Chinese people afraid of their police anymore?”
In parts of the Uighur quarter and in poorer, mixed areas of south Urumqi, young Uighur men with sticks, knives and stones went on a bloody rampage for about five hours while police officers remained mostly absent, according to interviews with dozens of residents. In some areas where police officers arrived but were outnumbered by rioters, the officers stood around or fled, witnesses said.