[Outlook]Sick and tired of violenceMore than 20 years ago I was a rookie city news reporter. Early every morning I would pay a visit to the local police stations to gather stories and check leads. Now and again I would hear scuffles inside the crime investigation department. On one occasion I heard a detective slapping a suspect across the face. But if someone shouted, “Hey, a reporter’s here,” the whole department fell silent.
Those days seems so long ago now. I haven’t heard of anyone being getting beaten up in a police station for a while. In fact, the glove is on the other hand, so to speak. A policewoman recently wrote that drunks taken into custody these days get violent and attack the policemen on duty.
In truth, I used to mock policemen and soldiers when I was at college in the 1980s. I wasn’t alone; others did the same. We were angry about military rule and we aimed our frustration at the police and soldiers.
These days society is different, It’s not easy to become a policeman. Not long ago 37,000 applied for a recruitment examination, but just 1,341 candidates got hired. Competition is as fierce as examinations for senior government or for the national bar exam.
The democratization of Korea has added validity to government and there is less controversy surrounding the legitimacy of those in power, unlike in my youth.
As a result, the job of soldier and policeman is viewed less negatively, which is a great step forward for this country. There is no need to mock the security forces anymore.
But even though times have changed, one aspect of Korean society remains the same: the culture of street demonstrations.
Demonstrators are violent. They brandish steel pipes and wooden sticks. They set fire to public offices. They overturn police buses and beat up policemen.
Some say the police use violence, too. But I beg to differ. Under military rule, demonstrations ― peaceful or not ― were strictly forbidden. If students or citizens formed a group, the authorities fired tear gas, attacked with clubs and rummaged through bags. Does this happen now?
The freedom of assembly, the freedom of association and the freedom to peaceful demonstration are basic human rights, according to Ahn Kyong-whan, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.
These activities must not be banned on the grounds of obstructing traffic. However, we should not have to tolerate protesters jamming up expressways.
So, I want to ask one thing. What do they get out of staging these demonstrations?
Justice Minister Kim Kyung-hwan has declared zero tolerance for violent protests. This is the right decision. Protesters who regularly use violence in every assembly should be punished.
The law will soon be changed to make it easier for the authorities to hold workers who stage illegal strikes accountable for damages. Meanwhile, policemen will not be held responsible if they cause accidents while carrying out duties such as arresting violent protesters.
In Korea, there is something even more powerful than the Constitution: the law of mobs and emotions. Kim of the ministry said this practice would end. At least in terms of the culture of protest, former President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration went backward in dealing with demonstrations. Under the former administration, it was the police not the illegal protesters that got criticized.
Ordinary citizens who work hard and pay taxes do not support violent rallies. In the 1980s, citizens applauded office workers who joined protests after work still wearing suits and ties. But attitudes have changed. Violent protesters have yet to appreciate this.
There should also be zero tolerance for the National Assembly where the so-called people’s representatives gather.
Try this quiz: “They move about in groups, swear and shout. They make irresponsible remarks and offer groundless criticism. They hold the collars of other people in front of cameras. Particularly, during the presidential and legislative election campaigns, they lose their senses. Who are they?”
The answer is obvious.
Violent protests must end. Our citizens have had enough. It is the same for politicians. We are sick and tired of watching lawmakers swearing at one another and fighting. They hold a hearing but when a person is about to answer, lawmakers shout “Cut it out!” This is pathetic.
But there is a way to change all this. The legislative elections are near. We should apply the rule of zero tolerance and not elect lawmakers who don’t regret their past wrongdoings.
Violent protests are not the only thing we can’t tolerate any more.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk