Mixed-race teen bullied to death: Police

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Mixed-race teen bullied to death: Police

The tragic death of a middle school student in Incheon last week highlighted the bullying and racism many mixed-race children face in Korea.

On the afternoon of Nov. 13, a 14-year-old boy fell off the top of a 15-story building in southern Incheon. The victim had been beaten by four of his classmates for over an hour and 20 minutes that day, and he was running from the bullies when he fell off the building, police said.

The boy was a child of a Russian mother and a Korean father. He was pronounced dead after being transported to the hospital an hour after his fall.

The Incheon Yeonsu Police Precinct arrested four middle schoolers - three boys and one girl - Friday. After questioning the suspects, police decided to charge them with inflicting injury resulting in death.

Police say a murder charge is not possible because surveillance footage from the building shows that the boy was not deliberately pushed by the suspects.

One of the bullies, also 14, incited public outrage by wearing a coat taken from the victim to his police questioning on the incident. After his photo was published by media outlets, the victim’s mother posted online in Russian that the coat had belonged to her son.

The suspect denied that he had taken the coat by force, arguing that it was traded voluntarily with the victim.

After tracking the suspect’s whereabouts on the day of the death, police said he took the coat from the victim hours earlier at a park nearby. Police added that the suspects also beat him at the same location at 4 a.m. that day and burned his white shirt, which was bloodied by the assault.

Given that the victim was facing frequent physical abuse and insults from classmates, police concluded that the coat was taken by force and added intimidation charges against the suspects.

According to reports by a number of media outlets, the victim lived with his mother and had been bullied because of his mixed-race background since elementary school. His mother wrote on her Facebook page that bullies had routinely taken her son’s money at school.

On a radio interview with the Christian Broadcasting System, a fellow Russian mother who knows the victim’s family well said that the Russian migrant community in Korea was shocked by the incident, though many of their children had also been bullied for similar reasons.

According to 2017 data from Statistics Korea, there are approximately 210,000 multiethnic families living in Korea, and 109,300 mixed-race students make up 1.9 percent of the total number of students nationwide.

But negative perceptions of foreign or mixed-race people are still prevalent among the general public. A Gender Equality Ministry study from 2015 found that one in four students in Korea perceived immigrants as threatening.

A report by the Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education showed that around 3,700 out of 6,000 school-age mixed-race children in the city are currently not enrolled in school. Analysts believe the nationwide rate is similar.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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