A video clip, in which some men wielding clubs and electric shock batons assaulted women and children during the demolition of illegally built housing, sends a chill down the spine.
The men, wearing black uniforms and helmets, were reportedly security guards hired by the local government in Xiuying district of Haikou, capital of Hainan province in South China.
Their brutality, committed in broad daylight, is unforgivable. It is a crime, and the perpetrators must be punished by law.
According to local officials, the demolition turned violent after the operation ran into resistance from villagers, who threw stones and fireworks, and threatened to ignite gas cylinders as they tried to prevent their houses from being torn down.
Such acts of the villagers, if they prove true, must also be dealt with according to the law.
Yet they do not justify the use of excessive force in retaliation.
The Haikou government has acted quickly following the public outcry after the video clip went viral on the internet at the weekend.
So far the head of Xiuying district has resigned, seven security guards have been detained, and their leader sacked.
But many questions remain to be answered.
Did the government act according to procedure and try to negotiate with villagers over compensation or relocation before forcibly evicting them from their homes?
Was there any dereliction of duty involved?
Was there any collusion between officials and businesspeople in the planned development project?
For years, forced demolitions have been tinder-boxes sparking confrontation between local governments and residents.
And as the pace of urbanisation quickens, such clashes are becoming increasingly frequent.
Of the 800,000 civilian cases filed with the courts over the past five years, more than 40 percent were related to forced demolitions, according to figures from the top court.
Violent clashes over forced demolitions not only damage a local government's image, they belie the vowed mission to serve the people.
Many of demolition projects are simply aimed at improving the local GDP figures, or else are the result of under-the-table deals between officials and property developers.
The latest case should serve as a lesson for those officials who have yet to understand the true meaning of economic development.
After all, an advanced and civilised society is not just about how many skyscrapers and highways it has, it is also about how the fruits of prosperity are shared among the members of that society, including the vulnerable, and whether all the members of the society live with dignity.
China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.