The Talmud says that evil starts with sweetness and ends with bitterness. For us, what seems right is to lay more bitterness on the shoulders of those who commit evil acts by letting society as a whole know who they are. Many countries in Europe, USA, or Japan seem to agree with this idea and in those countries, releasing the identities of those who commit crimes is already a natural and fair practice. In Korea, as the recent case of Cho's reveals, the voice insisting on releasing identities of offenders is gaining more power. However, even though many countries take it as reasonable, there are many other things to be considered in this issue. The following two paragraphs suggest that you ought to ponder upon what kind of attitude society should take facing the face of evil.
How a society reacts – Secondary damage
Virginia Tech shooting in 2007
The case of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, where Seung-Hui Cho, a Korean citizen with U.S. permanent resident status shot and killed thirty-two people, had received international media coverage. At the time when he was identified as the perpetrator, his name and face were spread all over the states through television and newspapers. The responses in American society toward the naked man are worth looking at. As it was the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history, the entire American society was shocked and mourning over the victims' deaths. Personal insults toward the perpetrator and his family were hardly found. Rather, what made Koreans surprised was the fact that some Americans recognized him as another victim. Beside the flowers for the victims, there were letters for Cho apologizing to him and the victims for not helping him, as he was suffering from mental illness. Condolences moved into social acts on various subjects such as gun laws, gaps in the U.S. system for treating mental health issues, and the responsibility of college administration. Especially, a fervent gun laws debate was ignited and the idea of modifying the relevant, current laws were seriously examined.
How people reacted to the case of the Virginia Tech shooting and the perpetrator's personal information is often assessed as one good example of a desirable attitude of the public upon releasing the identities of offenders. However, when that is not the case, the issue of releasing identities of such offenders might end up as nothing more than sensational coverage for vulgar curiosity, leaving many irrelevant, innocent people in pain.
The case of Kang Ho-soon in 2009
In 2009, Korean society had seen an unusual case of serial murders. Ten women were killed by Kang Ho-sun, who was sentenced to death in the following year. People were astonished and became furious about the way the murders were committed. However, a real surprise began when two newspapers released his name and face to the public. People flocked to the newspapers to see the face of the murderer and became shocked to find out that, betraying their expectations, the murderer actually looked normal and even had good looks. Some created a fan club for him and the number of the members who joined it reached about sixteen thousand in the first five days before it was shut down due to intense criticism. Besides, when the murderer's name was revealed, people who had the same name with him had to suffer malicious comments on their mini homepages from people who had mistaken them for the murderer. The murderer's son, who was only fifteen years old then, also got a stigma attached to him which can never be erased. His personal information spread over the Internet, and the TV program which interviewed him last year showed that he was still in great pain with difficulties in getting a job or having a relationship.
Between sensationalism and the right to know
Along with those problems described above, the possibilities of incorrect reports should be taken into consideration as well. In 2012, when a rape case about an elementary school student occurred in Naju, one newspaper carried a picture of a man on the front page insisting that he was the offender of the case. However, the truth came out as one of his friends insisted on his innocence through the Internet. The man in the picture was truly innocent of any allegations with the case, and the newspaper officially recognized its fault. However, mental anguish the man had to go through was severe and could not be compensated with anything. About this, Professor Kang Sang-hyun from Yonsei University remarked that this kind of incident is caused by fierce competition among the press. Some experts also pointed out that what lies under the press's releasing the identities of offenders is closer to commercialism and sensationalism rather than to the common good and right to know. Similarly, in 2006, a man was arrested as a suspect of arson and murder in Jeju Island and his name was revealed through the press. After the whole process of investigation was complete, he was found not guilty, but by unilateral briefing from police, he had to bear serious dishonor.
Encountered with cases of brutal crime, people with a normal sense of morality feel strong desires to know who the evil is and carry out public execution. At first glance, it does not seem to be problematic to release the identities of those who committed felonies. How they behaved makes us think they deserve it. However, no matter how evil they are, as we have seen previously, we also have to consider other things like secondary damages on innocent people, and risks of incorrect reports or sensationalism. With this dilemma, the next cover story will help you have a more insightful judgment based on the current states of Korean society.
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