Abuses of power by Chinese police are finally hitting home for the college-educated Chinese middle class after the death of one of their own. NPR reports 28-year-old environmental researcher Lei Yang was killed in May after police allegedly caught him paying for sex at a foot massage parlor. Police originally said Lei resisted arrest and suffered a heart attack, but an autopsy showed that was a lie; Lei choked to death on his own vomit, according to the Washington Post. During a six-month investigation, prosecutors determined police stepped on Lei's face and neck and put him in a chokehold, failed to get him medical treatment quickly, claimed all video footage of the incident was lost or damaged, and tried obstruct the investigation.
But on Dec. 23, prosecutors announced they wouldn't be filing charges against police, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. "The circumstances of the criminality were slight and they were able to acknowledge and repent their crimes," prosecutors said. Despite Chinese censors quickly moving to squash online discussion of the case, thousands of graduates from Lei's alma mater and other top scholars are signing petitions to reverse the decision. "If a human being doesn’t even have the most basic right—the right to life—and the country doesn’t protect that right, why can’t we use the word ‘evil’ to describe such a country?” the Post quotes one graduate as saying. Experts say the Lei Yang case has "destroyed the middle class' trust" in the government because now they "fear it could happen to them next."