&#91REPORTER'S DIARY&#93Police power needs checks

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]Police power needs checks

The place where newspaper photographers work is the place where something is happening. However beautiful or ugly it is, even if it is a dangerous battlefield, photographers are there with their cameras.

Park Jong-keun, a photographer at the JoongAng Ilbo, was smeared with blood on Jan. 16 when a riot policeman hit his face with a shield, breaking his nose. Mr. Park was taking pictures of a protest rally by union members of the Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction Co. in front of the company's headquarters in Dongdaemun in central Seoul. A laid-off Doosan worker who burned himself to death on Jan. 9 sparked the labor protest that demanded the reinstatement of fired workers.

Circumstances now are better than they were during the violent demonstrations of the 1980s, but photographers are still exposed to hazards at demonstrations. They are exposed to injury by stones or Molotov cocktails thrown by demonstrators or in strong police actions to quell demonstrators.

Injuries are usually more serious when the assault is by the police. They quell demonstrations for the sake of public security and social order. But police violence often results in injuries to people other than violent demonstrators.

That day, Mr. Park was taking pictures of the demonstration with about 20 other photographers, including some foreign cameramen. A riot policeman hacked at Mr. Park's face with his shield as if he assumed Mr. Park was his enemy, even though anyone could tell he was a newspaper photographer. This incident shows how police power can hurt peaceful citizens even though the police should exercise that power in accordance with the law.

They exceed the lawful use of force occasionally and are then branded by the general public as lawless themselves.

The reason why the police proposal to conduct independent investigations is so controversial boils down to that point. People think the police, empowered by the law to protect citizens' lives and property, will wield that power irresponsibly.

A few days ago, the Legal Research and Training Institute published a book that argued, "The police currently have many human resources and power. If left entirely to their own devices, they have the potential to become a fascist force in our society." The contention is reasonable even if perhaps overstated. We can well imagine why such words were written.

The police must consider limits on their exercise of power before they ask for independence from the prosecution's direction. If citizens cannot trust the police, the police must reform themselves. The police's goal to obtain independent investigative rights will be reached only if Koreans agree. It doesn't make any sense to allow villains to investigate crime.


by Shin In-seop

The writer is a photographer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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