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[From the scene] Black Lives Matter gathering held in Busan, supported by police

June 22, 2020 - 13:47 By Ock Hyun-ju
Participants pose for a picture with Gwangalli Beach in the background after the rally Saturday evening. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

BUSAN -- As some 140 people of different ethnic backgrounds handed out hand sanitizer and greeted passersby at the entrance to Gwangalli Beach in the port city of Busan, many laid curious eyes on the signs they were holding. The signs read, “Black Lives Matter.”

On a busy Saturday afternoon, expats here, mostly from English-speaking countries, and South Koreans gathered at the beach clad in black to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and racism -- all supported by the Busan police.

“It is great to see everyone come out -- people of different colors, people of different nationalities from all over the country, because they understand. If they don’t speak up, it is going to continue and they basically approve of it,” said Jammar Price, a 34-year-old English teacher from the US.

“I know it does not really affect Koreans as much. But Koreans walked by and they listened to what we said,” he said. “My hope is that Koreans understand that there is a problem in America and people are being murdered because of the color of their skin. If they can educate their family members or friends who are Korean ... (that would be great).”

The gathering, organized by Park Sul-bin, was aimed at raising awareness of what is happening in the US -- the anti-racism rallies triggered by the killing in police custody last month of an African American man named George Floyd.

“After I watched the video of George Floyd being killed, I could not sleep. My black friends were not only sad. They thought this could have happened to them, their family and friends. So I decided to help them by arranging it with the police,” Park said.

“I have also faced discrimination abroad and I don’t think it is someone else’s problem. I wanted to resolve misunderstanding about what expats thought was inaction by Koreans,” she said.

Many Koreans walking past the rally greeted and smiled back at the participants, who stood in two rows holding up placards saying “Tear Down Systematic Racism,” “Stop Racism” and “Black Lives Matter” in Korean and English.

Some asked questions and voiced their support.

“I have children. I think racism should be eliminated. I oppose Koreans discriminating against Southeast Asians, for example. So I am supporting what they do,” said Jeong Yeon-jong, who was taking a beachside stroll with his wife and 3-year-old son.

“We cannot do anything about race we were born in,” he added.

At the rally supported and protected by the police, some 140 participants neither chanted nor marched because foreign nationals here are not allowed to engage in political activities, including protests and rallies. 
Rebecca Tillman poses for a photo at the rally at Gwangalli Beach, Busan, Saturday.

“I was even more excited to find out that this was supported by the police. The fact the police were supportive made me feel supported more than people just being here because this is exactly the opposite situation going back home -- police against protesters. I feel safe,” said Rebecca Tillman, 25, who traveled from Seoul to take part in the rally. 

Mollie Triplett also joined the rally with her three biracial children aged 5, 8 and 10 so they could learn about racism, police brutality and what they could do to help. 

Mollie Triplett poses for a photo with her three children at the rally at Gwangalli Beach, Busan, Saturday.

“We are not removed from race relations because Korean people in other countries face a lot of discrimination because of the COVID-19 crisis. They are being discriminated against in Western countries because many people say ‘go back to China’ or ‘take back your disease to China,’” she said.

“I am standing here for my kids. My kids are not white. I hope they can grow up in a better world than I grew up in,” she said. “Mine was fine for me, but I hope they can grow up in a more colorful, open, freer, happier and more loving society where we don’t discriminate based on race, sex, gender or any sort of categories.”

The anti-racism rallies raged across the world, including in Korea, albeit at a much smaller scale locally.

On June 6, in a peaceful rally organized by a Korean man, some 150 people marched across Seoul over the death of the unarmed black man. The same day, black communities and their supporters here took to social media at noon for an online rally to demand justice for Floyd.

By Ock Hyun-ju (