By Mark Hallum
Korean-Americans and a City Council hopeful gathered in Flushing to call for action regarding the death Otto Warmbier, an American student who had been tortured in North Korea and later died after he was sent back to America in a comotose state.
Ellen Kang, of the Korean American Defenders of Freedom, was joined by City Council candidate Paul Graziano and Sunny Hahn in Leonard Square to deliver their message for the U.S. government to hold the Kim Jong Un regime accountable for their treatment of an American citizen.
Warmbier was arrested in North Korea stealing a propoganda banner from his hotel in January 2016. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor, but fell into a coma and was released after 18 months in captivity. He died on June 19 after his release was secured by U.S. officials and he returned stateside June 13.
Paul Graziano, a land use expert and treasurer of the Bayside Historical Society, is currently challenging Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) in the upcoming city elections. Graziano explained, however, he was at the rally as a concerned citizen rather than a candidate.
“The tragedy with Otto Warmbier is hard to even put into words,” Graziano said. “But obviously, dealing with North Korea should be off the table. This is a situation where, unfortunately, a young man, who shouldn’t have been there in the first place, and essentially pulled what we would call a prank and was killed for doing this just shows that this is not a regime that we should be talking with at all. “There is no interaction with this particular leader. Perhaps there was some negotiation that could happen with his father, but it’s very clear that the person who runs this country is a sociopath. There’s really no reason to be having discussions with them.”
The Kim regime rose to power with Kim Il Sung in the 1950s when the United States became involved in the war between the north and south. Kim Jong Il took over as leader of the “Hermit Kingdom” when his father died in 1994. Kim Jong Un became the current leader in 2011 after the death that year of Kim Jong Il, his father.
Sunny Han, a Republican who ran against Councilman Peter Koo in 2013, said a strong message needed to be sent to North Korea for the death of an American student.
“North Korea assaulting one U.S. citizen is an assault to America, an assault to our country, so therefore our country has to take serious action against their heinous conduct,” Hahn said. “We have to send a message that a U.S. citizen’s life is not worthless. They have to respect each and every American life.”
Kang’s organization focuses on issues such as the arrest and death of Warmbierand has been in existence for over 10 years. According to Kang, the incident with Warmbier is not only a problem between the two countries, but a human rights issue the international community should be concerned about.
Some of the phrases being chanted in Korean by the attendees called for the execution of Kim Jong Un, according to Hahn, who translated, while other messages were more along the lines of saying “Warmbier will live again.”
Hahn said that while South Koreans in the United States are patriotic about their native country, they respect America for the role it played in the Korean War.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall