The value of a good public authority

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The value of a good public authority


My experience in the United States changed my driving habits. I now become nervous whenever I see a police officer. I’ve never received a traffic ticket in my life, but I tense up whenever I see a patrol car on highways or local roads. It’s because the police in the United States are powerful.

In Korea, drivers often get into arguments with traffic cops. Not many drivers admit their faults when they are caught for violating a signal or running the speed limit. I, too, resisted the traffic cops. However, if you do the same in the United States, you can get in big trouble. Korean correspondents in Washington share an urban legend: a Korean driver was caught for violating a signal, and he started an argument with the traffic cop just as he would in Korea. Then, the cop peeked into the car and issued seven tickets, including a seat belt violation, a stop-light violation and obstruction of justice. The fines added up to more than $1,000.

In the United States, protesters must follow the rules strictly as well. The police line is not a mere line. It distinguishes what’s lawful and what’s not.

The Occupy Wall Street protest began in New York in the summer of 2011 and stirred American society for 73 days. When the protest spread to Washington, a Korean police executive visited the site and was deeply impressed. There were about 200 protesters, and one police officer was in charge of keeping them in order. But when the protesters approached the police line, he sounded a siren and warned, “If you take one step further from where you are now, your protest will become illegal.”

The demonstrators stepped back at once. The Korean police executive said that it would take as many riot police to push back 200 protesters in Seoul. Americans have trust in public authority, which is strict on both the powerful and the weak.

What divided barbarism and civilization in the Sewol ferry accident was how the captain and crew members acted. The folly Korea’s public authorities staged in the aftermath illustrated the difference between advancement and backwardness. They announced the raid on Geumsuwon, the Salvation Sect compound, four days before the arrest warrant, giving Yoo Byung-eun, the shadowy business tycoon behind the Sewol ferry’s operator, plenty of time to flee. As expected, he is still at large.

The public authority that is weak to the powerful and mighty to the weak is no longer functional. When Korean independence fighters were battling against imperial Japan and democratic activists opposed dictatorship, the public authority was the evil. Therefore, it was right to resist. That’s why many Koreans still speak up against traffic police.

However, the link must be severed there. In a normal democratic nation, public authority is the apparatus that maintains society and protects the people. Public authority that is firm on the strong and stern on the weak is a good that should not be ignored. The national reform plan must include the revival of a good public authority.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 27, Page 30

*The author is the JoongAng Ilbo Washington bureau chief.


Correction and rebuttal statement by the Evangelical Baptist Church

The Korea JoongAng Daily, regarding the reports since April 16, 2014, about the Evangelical Baptist Church (EBC) and Yoo Byung-eun, is publishing the following corrections and an excerpt from the rebuttal statement by the EBC.


Through three past investigations by the prosecution, it has been revealed that Yoo and the EBC, also known as the “Salvation Group” and Guwonpa in Korean, are not related to the Odaeyang mass suicide incident. That was also confirmed by the prosecution in its official statement on May 21. The prosecution’s investigation also found that Yoo had not made an attempt to smuggle himself out of the country or seek political asylum in France. We, therefore, correct the concerned reports.

Yoo retired from his executive management position in 1997. He did not own any shares in the noted companies, nor had he managed operations or used the operating funds for personal reasons. There are no grounds to call him the actual owner and chairman of the company. As such, he did not provide any directives in regards to the overloading of the Sewol ferry or its renovation.

It was verified that the captain and crew members who abandoned ship at the time of the Sewol ferry accident are not members of the EBC. It has also been verified that the EBC does not own any shares of Chonghaejin Marine Company and did not engage in its management.

Rebuttal statement

The EBC’s position is that the museums in the United States and Europe can never authorize an exhibition unless the artistic value of an artist’s works is recognized by the screening committee, irrespective of the amount of money an artist donates. The EBC’s position is that the exhibitions were not a result of Mr. Yoo’s patronage or donation, and Yoo also has not coerced Chonghaejin and its affiliates to purchase his photos.

The EBC states that Yoo did not participate in the foundation of the EBC in 1981, and the church does not offer him the title “pastor.” It also says a significant part of the 240 billion won ($206 million) worth of assets suspected of belonging to the Yoo family are real estate properties owned by the farming associations, which had been established by church members.

The EBC states that there are certain churches in Korea that call the EBC a cult, solely based on differences between their’s and the EBC’s doctrines.

But the EBC does not worship a particular individual as a religious sect leader or preach any doctrine that contradicts the Bible.

미국 생활을 하다보니 변한 게 있다. 경찰만 보면 긴장하는 습관이다. 이런 건 자랑하는 게 아니라던데, 아직 ‘티켓’(벌금 통지서) 한번 받은 적 없는 자칭 베스트 드라이버다. 그런데도 고속도로나 동네 길을 달릴 때 순찰차가 뒤따라 오면 숨을 졸이게 된다. 이유는 하나. 미국 경찰은 힘이 세기 때문이다.
한국에서 교통경찰관은 종종 시비의 대상이다. 규정속도나 신호를 위반했어도 승복하는 사람이 드물다. “왜 나만 잡느냐”에서부터 “내가 누군줄 아느냐”까지 일단 버티고 본다. 나도 그랬다. 미국에서 그랬다간 경을 친다. 워싱턴 특파원들 사이에 전설처럼 전해지는 얘기가 있다. 신호 위반으로 단속에 걸린 모 인사가 한국에서의 습관대로 교통경찰관과 말싸움을 벌였다. 그러자 경찰관은 차 안을 훑어보더니 뒷좌석 안전띠 미착용ㆍ정지차선 위반ㆍ공무집행 방해 등 무려 7장의 티켓을 발부했다고 한다. 벌금만 100여만원에 달했다.
시위도 마찬가지다. 미국에서 폴리스 라인(경찰이 정한 저지선)은 단순한 라인이 아니다. 합법과 불법을 가르는 엄정한 경계선이다.
2011년 여름 뉴욕에서 시작돼 73일간 미국 사회를 뜨겁게 달궜던 ‘월가를 점령하라(Occupy Wall Street)’ 시위가 수도 워싱턴에 상륙했을 때다. 당시 한국의 경찰 간부가 현장을 다녀온 뒤 혀를 내둘렀다. 시위대는 200여명인데 통제에 나선 경관은 단 한 명이었기 때문이다. 시위대가 폴리스 라인에 접근하는 순간 이 경관은 사이렌을 울렸다. 그러곤 “지금 서 있는 곳에서 한 발짝 더 내딛는 순간 여러분의 시위는 불법이 된다”고 경고했다. 순간 200여명의 시위대가 일제히 뒤로 물러났다고 한다. 그 장면을 지켜본 한국 경찰 간부는 “서울에서 200여명의 시위대를 뒤로 물리려면 그만한 숫자의 전경이 필요한데”라며 씁쓸해했다. 강자에게나 약자에게나 고루 엄정한 공권력에 대한 신뢰가 있기에 가능한 일이다.
세월호 침몰 사고 때 야만과 문명을 가른 건 선장과 선원들의 행동이었다. 반면 그 이후 한국의 공권력이 보여준 소극(笑劇)은 선진과 후진의 차이를 명확히 보여줬다. 구인장을 집행하기 나흘 전부터 금수원에 들어간다고 요란하게 예고해 유병언 씨가 숨을 시간을 넘치도록 줬다. 결과는 예상대로 '안 잡았다'다. 그런 경찰이 슬픔에 젖어있는 실종자 가족들 뒤는 철저히 밟았다.
강자에게 약하고, 약자에게 강한 공권력은 더 이상 공권력이 아니다. 일본 제국주의 대 독립투사, 독재 대 민주가 대립하던 시대 공권력은 악(惡)일 수 밖에 없었다. 그래서 공권력에 저항하는 건 정의였다. 교통경관에게 시비를 붙는 건 그런 DNA가 한국인의 피에 남아 있어서일지도 모른다. 하지만 그 고리는 끊겨야 한다. 정상적인 민주국가에서 공권력은 사회를 유지하고, 나를 지켜주는 도구다. 강자에게 강하고, 약자에게 엄한 공권력은 무시돼선 안될 선(善)이다. 국가 개조의 중요한 항목에는 그런 공권력의 부활도 포함돼야 한다.
박승희 워싱턴총국장
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