A sad reality

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A sad reality

Korea’s police chief-designate Kim Seok-ki finally gave up on assuming the position yesterday.

We have constantly argued that his fate would be a litmus test of the country’s capacity for reasoned action. We said the best way to deal with the crisis [over police handling of the Yongsan protest] is to clear up all the suspicions and to dole out punitive measures later.

The prosecutors’ investigation found that Kim and the police cannot be held accountable for the deadly blaze in Yongsan. Prosecutors said the police response to the protest was not entirely flawless, but that they were not responsible for the tragedy. The police did what they had to protect the safety of ordinary citizens and to maintain law and order.

As such, there is no reason for Kim’s designation to be scrapped. Kim said he is voluntarily giving up the post, but everyone knows that the decision was made by the Blue House. Though the administration believes that Kim is not legally accountable for the incident, it needs to take moral and political responsibility for the deaths of five protesters and one police officer.

The decision certainly is not in line with the principles of law and order, but it should not be criticized outright. President Lee Myung-bak has consistently stressed the importance of principles and reiterated that the truth behind the incident should be clarified before punishing anyone in charge. This stance is a big improvement from last summer, when he let downtown Seoul be controlled by illegal protests at the height of the anti-U.S. beef demonstrations. It is also a big improvement over the past, when Lee’s predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, forced former police chief Huh Joon-young to step down after two farmers were killed during a street rally, and let military servicemen be beaten by protesters in Pyeongtaek.

But the Lee administration again betrayed the principle it pledged to faithfully safeguard. The fact that another government official who rightfully enforced the law will be forced to leave his post for political reasons will inevitably tarnish the moral standing of the administration.

The president’s authority has been damaged because he was unable to protect a loyal law enforcement officer from attacks by critics. The nation’s law enforcement community will have doubts about their legitimacy, and their morale will be damaged.

Kim said in the press conference at which he announced his resignation that “strict police law enforcement activities should not be labeled as excessive enforcement or violence.”

The Kim incident is testimony to the sad reality in this country. The president, politicians and members of civil society should take Kim’s resignation as a lesson calling for a more mature and reasonable civic society. They should learn more moderate ways to deal with social conflict and bolster the social safety net for poor people while sternly punishing violent and illegal protests and protecting the police’s authority. The archaic practice of violent protests should end here, with Kim’s resignation.
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