One piece of the supposedly daunting security forces is the mobilization of Beijing's retirees to keep the neighborhoods safe and harmonious. They are everywhere — gaggles of pensioners sitting on stools fanning themselves, drinking tea, and keeping a look out for suspicious persons engaged in suspicious activities. Why is that foreigner crossing the street? And what subversive banner might she have in her backpack? What about those people dutifully lining up at the bus stop? Now that's really suspicious and unusual behavior.
What we are witnessing here folks is the resurrection of the once powerful "Marxist Mamas" that used to be a key link in maintaining social and political control during the 70's and 80's. Serving at the behest and request of the local neighborhood committees, their use has fallen by the wayside in the past decade or so. Unless and until there's a big event in town (Party meetings and Olympics would fall into that category), at which point they are deputized, given red armbands, and sent outside to….well, to sit and watch.
The China Daily today has an interesting piece about these neighborhood 'vigilantes' (an unfortunate translation, if you ask me).