No tolerance for violence
Downtown Seoul turned into mayhem over the weekend, as one of the largest demonstrations in recent years involving more than 64,000 people turned violent after riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. Angry demonstrators used ropes to topple police buses circling the rally, and the police retaliated with water cannons. A farmer in his 60s is in critical condition after he fell and hit his head because of being knocked down by water. Dozens of demonstrators and police officers were injured. About 120,000 high school seniors had to zigzag around the capital in order to arrive on time for their essay tests for the college entrance exam due to heavy traffic.
The Korean Constitution guarantees the right to free expression and protest. Anyone can protest on the streets and rally in a group upon registering. Of course, peaceful demonstrations and expression are legitimate. But unfortunately, violent clashes and unnecessarily aggressive responses by the police continue even now.
Militant street rallies cannot be tolerated no matter what. However, the government and ruling party also must ask themselves why such disgraceful and tragic events took place in the first place. If the ruling power had taken the time to pay attention and listen closely to the disgruntled public voice, such overblown assertiveness by the protesters would not have been necessary.
The demonstration was initially provoked by a protest of the government’s decision to revive state control over history textbooks through a single textbook and workers’ complaints about government-driven labor reforms, youth unemployment, a plunge in rice prices and the ever-widening income gap in our society. They are all compelling issues that need to be addressed to make the lives of ordinary people better.
The government has repeatedly disappointed and frustrated people by paying little heed to their needs and opposing voices. As a result, an increasing number of people express their outrage and frustration toward the conservative government. Vexation developed into hatred and conflict. No doubt we cannot approve illegal and violent means of protest. But we also do not approve the unilateral, top-down ways of the governing power. To sustain democracy in a healthy fashion, everyone must be open to diverse opinions and willing to communicate to talk out differences. There is too much work to be done to be further delayed by violent protests.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 16, Page 34