Somewhere in South Korea, a protest is happening. According to police figures, in 2012 alone, there were 8,328 protests and demonstrations in the country: the equivalent of nearly one every hour. “They increase from September to November, when the weather is pleasant,” says Ki, a 23-year-old member of Korea’s Auxiliary Police. Twice a year, Ki and his colleagues spend 14 days at a training session, where they begin by watching violent protest videos from the 1970s and 1980s. The squads are then split into groups of “police” and “rioters” and taught how to control a crowd by reenacting protest scenes with papier-mâché rocks.
Secret police agents regularly infiltrate South Korean protest groups in order to collect information on upcoming demonstrations, according to Ki. If a protest is peaceful, the riot police may face nothing more than the fist-shaking mimes who are often hired by labor unions to lead their rallies. But if it is violent, they will have to defend themselves against everything from shrimp-based stink bombs to jukchang, traditional bamboo spears. “Jukchang are very sharp,” says Ki. “They can go through the front cage of our helmets and pierce the face.” Most members of the Auxiliary Police are in their twenties and volunteer for the job to avoid South Korea’s compulsory military service. They sympathize with certain demonstrators, and simply cannot confront others. “Growing up, we are taught to revere our elders,” admits Ki. “It’s very difficult to stand in their way.” In January 2006, for example, riot police in Seoul were sent to face down a protest of hundreds of concerned mothers who were chanting, “Don’t beat my son!” They were marching for better treatment of riot police.
From the pages of COLORS #88 - Protest.