What happened that night is still being investigated, but the national police chief has already apologized, along with the interior minister. It seems that many phone calls were made to the police that night as the crowds started pushing in on each other, but no one came to the rescue until it was too late.
The public outrage is serious, and mourners have taken to the streets with black signs and white candles to protest the response to the tragedy. The biggest tragedy in South Korea in nearly a decade, the protests continue across the capital even as the investigation is searching municipal offices and fire and police stations.
Candlelight Action organized the biggest protest, which is made up of a selection of progressive groups, which had already been busy protesting President Yoon for other reasons even before the tragedy in Itaewon. Protestors were yelling and calling for the resignation of the government as they chanted.
“Although the government clearly has responsibility, it is looking for perpetrators from irrelevant organisations… the incident occurred because the government did not play its very basic role,” said one speaker.
Youth protesters also gathered near the site where the devastation occurred. They wore black clothes and face masks, and held banners. Protestors are especially angry because 11 emergency calls were made that evening, long before the deadly crush of people, and the police did not respond.
“I felt sad at first. But now I’m angry. I’m here because this incident could have been prevented. Those people were close to my age,” said 22-year-old university student Kang Hee-joo.
The mourners held white chrysanthemums, which is a symbol of grief in Korean culture. Many recounted the Sewol incident, a ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, most of them in high school.
“That was very sad. And it’s unbelievable this is happening again. That’s why I’ve come here,” said the 59-year-old architect Yeom Sung-won as his eyes welled up with tears. “I’m heartbroken, it’s so senseless. The government has ignored them. It should protect its citizens and secure their safety no matter what.”
According to Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital, “A government has a responsibility to keep its citizens safe. These young people reached out for help in a time of need and their government did not respond. This is a travesty of justice and should never happen again.”
By refusing to answer the many calls for help from the South Korean youth that were enjoying a night out for Halloween, the protestors say the government is responsible for the deaths of the innocents. Indeed, a government has the right and responsibility to take care of its people, and this incident in Itaewon is an epic failure for those who are in charge of South Korea.