Controversy brews over removal of Sewol memorial at L.A. Korean Consulate General

June 25, 2014
A man stands at the Sewol memorial in front of the Korean Consul General in Los Angeles before its removal. (Newsis)

A man stands at the Sewol memorial in front of the Korean Consul General in Los Angeles before its removal. (Newsis)

Some in the Los Angeles Korean community expressed outrage after the Korean Consulate General forcefully took down a community-built memorial for Sewol victims.

The memorial, begun four days after the ferry boat sinking, had been set up in front of the Consulate General since April 20.

More than 10,000 passerby contributed Post-it notes with messages, yellow ribbons and attention to the memorial over the past two months, the team responsible for the memorial said.

After learning of its forced removal on June 20, a few community members — including Nam Kwan-woo, who had come out to the memorial daily for 65 days — took to the Consulate General on Tuesday to complain and requested a meeting with Kim Hyun-myung, the Consul General.

“That the Consulate General, which is supposed to keep the safety and rights of Koreans, forcefully removed a memorial built voluntarily by Koreans is undemocratic and against human rights,” the team said.

It accused the embassy of getting rid of the memorial to make way for an upcoming visit by the first deputy minister of foreign affairs and for a first-year campaign to commemorate June 25, the anniversary of the Korean War.

“We talked a few times about removing the memorial, and we gave a notice on the day of the removal, so it wasn’t by force,” said Bang Ki-sun, deputy consul general. “We share the pain of the Sewol tragedy, but this can’t keep going forever. It’s time to settle it.”

The embassy said it had received complaints from community members who have different political views on the topic of the Sewol and that the removal had nothing to do with the minister’s visit or the June 25 event.

Public discontent against South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her administration’s handling of the sinking had reached some in L.A., who added anti-Park messages onto the memorial’s wall.

Protesters opposing the Korean government crowded Wilshire/Vermont station just a spitting distance away from the Consulate General on May 19. Protestors against the protestors, many of them Park supporters, popped up the same day across the street.

Eleven bodies remain missing from the sinking. The official body count has climbed to 293. Fifteen crew members who were onboard the ferry boat have been charged with murder and other accusations; the trials are still ongoing.

Community members questioned whether a notice by phone could be considered a non-forceful removal.

The memorial team’s Tuesday requests included a formal apology from the Consulate General, the restoration of the memorial with all original Post-it notes included and the promise of safety and rights for community members overseeing the memorial.