Elementary school student Jian Macdonald had always thought policemen were cool — especially ones that rode fast motorcycles.
In September last year, Jian was riding through Ueno on the back on his father’s motorbike when they spotted a traffic cop at the side of the road. They pulled over and chatted with the officer, who was kind enough to let Jian sit on his motorcycle and pose for a photograph.
But the following month something happened that would forever taint the 8-year-old’s image of the Japanese police.
On Oct. 29, Jian was once again riding on the back on his father’s bike, this time in front of Kita-Senju Station, when, at around 5:30 in the afternoon, a police car came up behind them and flashed its lights. Jian’s father, Todd Macdonald, was somewhat startled by this and naturally assumed that the police were flashing their lights at him.
While waiting for the lights at the pedestrian crossing, Macdonald, a 47-year-old American citizen and long-term Tokyo resident, says he shouted out to the police to find out what they wanted and why they turned their lights on. Then Macdonald and one of the officers in the car got into what he calls a “we cannot hear you argument” — Macdonald was wearing a motorcycle helmet at the time and the window of the patrol car was shut.
After the lights changed, Macdonald pulled over so he could talk with the police further, but instead of joining him at the side of the road, they turned on their siren, jumped a red light and took a right turn. At that point Macdonald decided to find out what was going on, and rather than driving straight on in the direction of home, he followed the police around the corner.
“They turned on the lights behind me, which is very dangerous,” explains Macdonald. “I wanted to know if having their lights on was for show or if there was really something going on. Was it bulls—t towards me or something else?”
Macdonald saw the patrol car parked in the loading area in front of the rear entrance to the Marui department store, so he pulled over to the side of the road. He then tried to take a photo of the car with his cellphone camera, at which point a police officer leaped out of the car, rushed across the road and told him to stop taking photos.
Believing he was within his rights to stand on a public road and take photos, and also wanting to have a record of the car’s registration plate in case he decided to make a complaint, Macdonald refused to cooperate.
“What right do they have to run across the road and stop me from taking a picture?” he says.
Quickly things began to escalate, and the situation developed into what Macdonald calls a “shouting match.” Eventually, he decided the best thing to do was go home, but by that time, he says, the police wouldn’t let him leave.
“It was dark and cold and I wanted to get my son home, but they just didn’t give a s—t. They kept standing in front of the motorbike and wouldn’t let me go,” he says. “You tell me why they can hold me against my will, while they are not arresting me for taking a picture.”
The battery of his 1,200cc Yamaha VMAX was flat at the time and he was concerned about restarting it later if it was switched off, so he had left the engine running.
“I told him, don’t touch my bike,” Macdonald recalls. “When he shut the engine down, I started screaming and yelling at him, he pulled out his wand (baton) and swung it at me, and I heard a huge bang but I didn’t think anything about it at the time.”
It wasn’t until he arrived home later and was putting a cover over his bike that he noticed a 3 cm crack in the front fender.
Macdonald says that the officer didn’t strike him with the baton, but he was using it to intimidate him.
“He didn’t swing it at me to hit me — he did a swinging action from his chest downward in a threatening way. The other police officer grabbed him by the chest and tried to get him to calm down.”
As the incident dragged on and the conflict continued to escalate, Macdonald became increasingly determined to take a photograph of the police officer so he could identify him if he decided to lodge a complaint later. But Macdonald says the officer refused to tell him his name, and when he tried to photograph his badge he kept covering it with his hand.
“To me, that badge number is there for us. If he did not do wrong, why is he covering his badge and why is he refusing to give his name?”
Macdonald says the police officer then grabbed him by the shoulder of his jacket and wouldn’t let go. Macdonald wanted evidence of what the officer was doing, so he passed his cellphone to his son and told him to start shooting some video.
“That pissed him off more — he didn’t want the world to see what he was doing,” Macdonald says.
According to Macdonald and his son, at this point the police officer turned on Jian, punching him on the right shoulder.
In Jian’s words: “I was pointing a camera. The bad police just punched me hard. It was hurt, very hurt.”
Both Macdonald and Jian say the officer then grabbed hold of the boy with one hand on each shoulder and shook him violently. Macdonald says that what happened to his son was totally unexpected and that he never thought he was putting his son at risk by telling him to use the camera.
“It never crossed my mind that they would be aggressive towards him — not to an 8-year-old,” he says. “I thought being Japanese police they would have the attitude, ‘Oh, what can I do?’ — (that) they wouldn’t dare touch him. I thought, worst case scenario, they would say, ‘Come on, little kid, please give me the camera, you shouldn’t be doing that.’ I never even thought for a second he would punch Jian the way he did.”
Macdonald says the police officer punched his son hard enough to knock him backwards into the roadside railing and leave a bruise. “He had a small bluish-black mark on his shoulder. The mark was there for a few days.”
Macdonald is furious about what happened to his son and says he would like to see the officer in question face punishment. He also believes that Jian — now 9 years old — has been traumatized by the incident.
“What right do they have to punch him?” asks Macdonald. “Why was he punching an 8-year-old like you would punch a 30-year-old man and then violently shaking him like you would shake a wet rag?”
Jian, who is fluent in both Japanese and English, says he was really frightened throughout the incident, especially when the police officer, whom he calls a “crazy man,” was arguing with his father.
“It was very scary for me. I was scared because I did see when Dada fight (argue) with police,” he explains. “I was worried about Papa because police carry guns. Police are dangerous people.”
When asked what he wanted to happen to the policeman, Jian replied, “I want him to say sorry because we had a fight. I want him to quit his job.”
Kazuaki Suzuki, deputy chief of the Senju Police Department, says a thorough investigation was carried out into the incident after Macdonald came to the station and laid a complaint. He says that he and other officers viewed video footage of the entire incident recorded by a security camera located at the rear entrance to the Marui store, and also interviewed and took a statement from a department store security guard who was present at the time.
Suzuki says that the video footage clearly shows that Macdonald’s claim that the police officer used violence against his son is completely false.
“At no point did the officer punch the child. In fact, he did not even touch him at all. All the officer did was hold up his open hand in front of the camera to try and stop him from taking a photo.”
Suzuki also says that Macdonald’s accusations that the officer threatened him with his nightstick and vandalized his motorcycle are also false, and that the security guard’s statement fully corroborates the police version of events.
The Japan Times asked to view the security camera footage but the Senju Police denied the request.
“If we go to court we will show the video, but as it is evidence we can’t make it public now,” Suzuki said.
According to Suzuki, the patrol car in question had been dispatched to the Marui store to deal with an unrelated incident when they first encountered Macdonald at the traffic lights near the station. He says that Macdonald suddenly started yelling “Kese! Kese!” at the officers in an attempt to get them to turn off their flashing lights. The officers were confused by Macdonald’s behavior, but as they had to attend to an emergency, they drove on, Suzuki says.
A man had been caught at the department store taking photos up girls’ skirts, and the officers in question were there to pick him up and take him to the station for questioning, says Suzuki.
“A criminal suspect was coming out of the building. He was a suspect and had not been arrested so there was an obligation to protect his privacy. This is why the officers tried to stop Macdonald taking photos.”
Suzuki acknowledges that Macdonald did not break the law, which was why he was not arrested. He also says the engine of Macdonald’s bike was turned off by the officer at the scene because it was dangerous to leave it running on a public road.
When asked if the officer had held Macdonald at the scene against his will or attempted to conceal his identity by covering his badge, he said he didn’t know as that information was not presently at hand.
Suzuki says that he does not know why Macdonald is making accusations that the police were violent towards his son.
“I am very sorry to hear he is saying these things. I think it is a real shame because he is not telling the truth,” Suzuki said. “I wish he did not have such an mistaken impression of the Japanese police force. I hope we can resolve things and be on good terms with him in the future.”
Send comments on this issue and story ideas to email@example.com
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.