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Punish lawbreakers

Posted March. 12, 2013 07:12,   


Im Seong-muk, a police officer at Yongsan Police Station in Seoul, chased American soldiers who shot at civilians with BB guns in the city`s Itaewon district and then ran away. Im, 30, shot real bullets, but the van carrying three American soldiers ran over the foot of the policeman and kept running. In summer last year in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, where a U.S. Army base is located, seven U.S. soldiers handcuffed a Korean civilian and took him away. Several of the soldiers, however, are said to have left Korea before being indicted. This incident shows how the U.S. military has ignored the authority of Korean police and the need to correct unjust provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement.

The Jung ward of Seoul tried to demolish Friday the tents of people who continued illegal strikes for one year in front of Deoksu Palace. But the demonstrators, who were laid off by SsangYong Motor, resisted so strongly that police and civil servants had to give in to them and retreated before trying anything. Camping on a road is also illegal. On March 3, a man set fire to the site and two of three tents were burned down. Even worse, the fire did not stop before blackening a stonewall and rafters of Deoksu Palace. The ward office spent 371,000 won (340 U.S. dollars) of taxpayers’ money to clean the 4.5 tons of trash caused by the blaze. It is unknown how much it will cost taxpayers to repair the palace wall and rafters and replace burned roadside trees.

Im is recuperating at a police hospital after receiving emergency treatment at a civilian hospital. A bed-ridden policeman as brave and proactive as him is a reminder of the poor state of public order in the area under his jurisdiction. Experienced cops never use guns unless the situation takes a turn for the worse. This is because even if a policeman shots the lower body of a suspect after ordering him or her to stop under the rules of firearm use, a Korean court will most likely order the officer to pay damages if the person shot sues. Had Im complied with domestic law in firing a gun at a Korean, he might have had to pay for the treatment. Chris Gentry, deputy commanding general of the Eighth U.S. Army in Korea, visited Im at the hospital, apologized and offered compensation including payment of his medical bills. The American said nothing if Im shooting was an overreaction to unarmed foreigners.

The sit-in protest in front of Deoksu Palace and the rampage by the American soldiers have one thing in common: complete disregard for authority. The Jung ward office took no decisive action against the illegal demonstration for more than a year, and did not even ask for compensation for the damage caused to a cultural heritage to the people who established illegal facilities or the person who set the blaze. The ward office might have thought a lawsuit would be ineffective or that spending taxpayers’ money would be an easy way to resolve the situation. The demonstrators and the American solders broke the law, but their attitudes toward their crimes seem so different. Taxpayers’ money should not go to fix the damage caused by illegal acts. The wrongdoers must pay for what they did.

City Desk Reporter Lee Dong-yeong (argus@donga.com)