[Viewpoint] Standing up for those who protect usA few months ago when I was watching the Korean film “Mother” in a Paris cinema, I saw an audience member being pulled out of his seat by policemen. The man had ignored the staff’s repeated warnings not to bring food into the theater and he munched on his sandwich while watching the film.
A few minutes later, three officers appeared after receiving a call from the staff and asked the man to accompany them. When the man protested, the officers pulled him out by force. Some of the audience booed at the excessive police action over a sandwich. One shouted that this was a demonstration of the type of “social justice” sought by the Sarkozy government. A few grabbed the policemen’s arms. Then one officer sternly warned them to keep their hands off or otherwise they would be arrested. Everyone became quiet and the man was dragged outside. A similar controversy occurred in Britain last week due to a court ruling concerning violent protests during the G-20 Summit in London a year ago when a riot policeman, Delroy Smellie, hit a female protester on the face and leg with his metal baton. The woman, Nicola Fisher, fell to the ground after the beating. A bystander filmed the scene with his video camera and posted the footage on YouTube. Netizens roared at the sight of the bruises on Fisher’s legs.
The sergeant was suspended from duty and prosecutors accused him of abuse of force, arguing his repeated striking of Fisher had been unnecessary. But the court recently cleared Smellie of the assault charge, siding with the defendant’s claim of lawful self-defense. Judge Daphne Wickham said the police sergeant had only gotten three hours of rest working nonstop 28 hours to contain G-20 demonstrations. She said the sergeant needed to use force to defend himself. Sergeant Smellie had argued that he felt threatened by the female protester and feared a camera and a carton of juice in her hands could be used as weapons.
The judge concluded that the sergeant could not have acted more discreetly under the circumstances when thousands of people had been involved in bloody skirmishes with the police.
The incident might remind us of what happens at home when police warnings are completely ignored and riot officers are rushed to the hospital after being hit by protestors. Seoul Police Chief Kim Seok-ki, in stepping down to take responsibility for the deadly clash at the Yongsan redevelopment site last year, told his peers that he hoped for a future when police are safe from attacks.
In order for the police to work without fear of attack, we need to do more than call for mature civility from the public. We need greater police authority. French police officers, for instance, patrol in three numbers to display authority. They are authorized to spray tear gas if they feel threatened in demonstrations.
We also need more judges like Wickham. We may not have seen the same ruling if Sergeant Smellie stood in a Korean court. If the court does not respect law enforcement authority, our police officers will likely face further beatings by the public.
*The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s correspondent in Paris.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
By Lee Sang-eon