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[Editorial] Police Chief Nominee as Political Scapegoat

Posted February. 11, 2009 09:41,   


Kim Seok-ki resigned yesterday as Seoul police chief and withdrew his nomination for the head of the National Police Agency. He did so to take responsibility for the Jan. 20 deadly clash between police and squatters that killed six people in Seoul’s Yongsan district. The administration apparently concluded that retaining Kim will burden the government and hinder the smooth operation of the National Assembly at this critical time. His resignation is the second for a national police chief or designate over a police crackdown on violent protests. The first was Huh Joon-yeong, who resigned as head of the National Police Agency in 2005. This development will clearly dishearten rank-and-file officers who keep law and order in the country.

It is no overstatement that Korean laws and regulations have been rendered useless due to those who resort to illegal means and violence to get their way. This deplorable situation dates back to when Korea was under military dictatorship. It is disturbing to see violent and illegal activities continue to undermine law and order even after the country achieved democracy. If the situation goes unchecked, this will hurt the interests of the people and hamper national development.

Under the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, staff at the presidential office protected violent protesters. Former national police chief Huh later confessed that senior presidential aides who had served time in prison for taking part in protests asked him to release those arrested for illegal demonstrations. Given the officials’ explicit tolerance for illegal protests launched by their acquaintances, it is not surprising that police at the time turned a blind eye to violent demonstrations taking place every weekend in downtown Seoul. Huh stepped down after a farmer was killed in a bloody clash between police and farmers who wielded bamboo spears and steel pipes. The Roh administration sacrificed Huh to win cooperation from the Democratic Labor Party in passing a budget bill.

Since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration, illegitimate and violent protests have become almost a daily routine. Those who lost power are banding together with street protesters against the government. Candlelight vigil protesters created national chaos for three months, attacking police and newspaper companies and even threatening the presidential office. The protest of evictees in Seoul’s Yongsan district was no exception. The squatters protesting a redevelopment plan threw firebombs, bricks and golf balls down onto the streets. They spread paint thinner and hurled firebombs, killing a police officer.

If the government makes a national police chief a political scapegoat, law enforcement cannot exert its legitimate power against violent and illegal protests. No advanced democracy allows demonstrators to beat police officers. If the government allows the national police chief to resign over the crackdown on illegal protests, it cannot stem violent and illegal protests or maintain law and order. It is truly upsetting that the government’s surrender to violent forces and their defenders have played a part in Kim’s resignation.