Purging violence from protests

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Purging violence from protests

Tuesday morning’s JoongAng Ilbo carried an unpleasant photo on its front page. National Assemblyman Lee In-ki was displaying a long bamboo spear used by protesters against riot police during a parliamentary session on the National Police Agency. Bamboo poles can be sharpened at the tip and used as weapons. The “upgraded” spears on display had claw-like tips and had debuted during a protest by independent truckers in Daejeon in May, when more than 100 riot police were injured. Some of the clawed spears pierced through the mesh face helmets protecting riot police officers. They can easily impale eyes and leave lasting scars.

No citizens in the other G-20 member nations wield dangerous weapons of this kind against police officers on the streets. And in no other country will you find legislators holding up spears used by protesters during a parliamentary session.

Korean society has long been known for its militant and sometimes violent riots and clashes with the police. Deaths like the ones that occurred during the demonstration at a redevelopment site in Yongsan may have been avoided if rioters hadn’t resorted to drastic measures through the use of Molotov cocktails.

The police have finally set up a memorial stone to honor the police officers who died during a standoff with college students at Dongeui University two decades ago. In May 1989, student protesters held five police officers hostage in a campus library. The library caught fire during a police raid that attempted to stop the students. Seven police officers died. The student demonstrators were freed and compensated as “democratic activists” in a ruling handed down during the term of the late President Kim Dae-jung in 2002.

But the deceased police officers were neither compensated nor recognized as having died honorably in the line of duty. At the ceremony for the officers, a representative of the families of the deceased said in sobs, “For the last 10 years, we lived as wrongdoers with no reason.”

Police Chief Kang Hee-rak apologized to the family, saying, “The deceased have been misrepresented in history, and we seek your forgiveness for having made so few efforts to set the record straight.”

The picture of the bamboo spear and the memorial stone should remain as our scarlet letter, reminding us to do more to rid demonstrations of violence.

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