[EDITORIALS]Stamp out violence!Junnong, an umbrella group representing farmers, and civic organizations held a candlelight vigil yesterday while designating December 20 as a day against excessive violence by the police. They demanded an official apology by President Roh Moo-hyun and the firing of the head of the police agency over the death of Hong Deok-pyo, who died while undergoing treatment for neck wounds he suffered during a violent street rally last month. It’s regrettable that his death was caused by the excessive use of force by police. That Mr. Hong is a small time farmer with two sons and two daughters makes this an even sadder story.
The cause of Mr. Hong’s death lies in the vicious cycle of violent rallies and the excessive use of force by police, a unique aspect of Korea’s protest culture. There is a major problem with the illegal way of holding rallies, which are held not according to the time and place that were provided by the protesters when they registered their rally. Also, potentially lethal implements are used in protests without eliciting much concern. The police line set up to protect protesters is often laughed at while steel pipes and bamboo sticks are used to attack the police. Molotov cocktails are thrown and police vehicles burn. The riot police are comprised of servicemen in their early 20s. When they are being hit by sticks wielded by protesters, emotions run high. The shields used by the police turn into weapons, causing injuries on both sides. At the rally in question, 218 police officers were injured while farmers claim that 600 farmers were hurt.
Violent protests happen because of a lack of determined action by the public authorities towards illegal protests. Even when clubs and bamboo sticks are used, fights between protesters and the police are just accepted. Thus the violence keeps escalating. There needs to be a determined will to deal sternly with violent protests. If necessary, tear gas should be used so that violent protests disappear.
These lawless protests are now crossing international borders. Exporting methods used in Seoul, 11 Koreans have been charged with engaging in violent protests by the authorities in Hong Kong. This shows how little law-abiding consciousness there is among Korean protesters. The protest culture, which uses violence as a means to express one’s will, should not be allowed anymore. To turn a blind eye towards violence only results in more violent protests. Peaceful protests should be encouraged to ensure such unhappy incidents become a thing of the past.