Police involvement is not the only answerStudents called him “The Law.” I still vividly remember him after nearly 40 years. It was the purest form of fear to be called to his office, where a beating awaited those who broke the rules. But The Law would not let his students graduate with a negative mark on their transcript. Students who drank rice wine over lunch and others caught smoking in the rest rooms were not transferred to the disciplinary committee. Instead, he took care of them with his cane. For more serious violations leading to suspension he gave harsher punishments. When testosterone-driven boys got into fights with students from other schools, he went to the police station and brought them home. They would surely be beaten, but students surrendered to his authority. Teachers like The Law are disappearing, and the police have taken up the task.
The government is to announce a comprehensive plan for school violence on Feb. 6, and the National Police Agency is to play an important role. The school violence task force, which is currently installed only at the NPA, is to be expanded to 16 metropolitan and provincial governments around the country. Seventeen support centers, including two in Gyeonggi, will open on March 2, and they will share the phone number 117. In January, 616 cases of school violence were filed with the police, an average of 20 a day and a dramatic increase from 0.8 per day last year.
Youth violence is getting more and more serious, and the offenders and victims are getting younger and younger. Thanks to the students’ human rights ordinance, moderate physical discipline has been banned, so many cases cannot be resolved at school. Of course, the police will not conclude every case with criminal punishment. The school violence cases will be divided into those subject to punishment and those for correctional intervention. But is it really necessary to involve the police?
What The Law did to my peers was only possible during an authoritarian regime, and we cannot and should not go back to those days. But before the police are called, there needs to be another authority or a buffering mechanism to replace the role of The Law. The police should be the last prescription for the worst case. Meanwhile, the threshold to the courts has become so low that people file lawsuits or complaints for even the most trivial cases. It is hardly a good place to live when it is so easy to engage the police, the prosecution and the court.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.