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Last month, the U.S. Embassy issued a warning to its citizens about suspected “racial profiling incidents.” However, there had already been heavy discussion of the subject in the international community for years.

In fact, Black Eye spoke to Baltimore native Jesse Freeman, a filmmaker and ikebana (flower arrangement) artist, of his experience being regularly stopped and frisked by police due to what he believed was his skin color. So what took the community by surprise was the fact the embassy issued a statement on such profiling, not that it was happening.

The Tokyo Bar Association’s Committee on Protection of Foreigners’ Human Rights wants to better understand the situation regarding racial profiling by police in Japan. It has launched a survey and is asking those who believe they have been the target of profiling — or their family or friends — to take a moment and fill out the survey in order to get a clearer picture of what is going on.

“The survey on racial profiling by police in Japan is an encouraging step toward addressing long-standing issues with the way in which police perceive and interact with people from international and multicultural communities in Japan,” says Tina Saunders, director and associate professor of instruction in law at the Beasley School of Law at Temple University, Japan Campus. “Capturing and sharing people’s experiences with the police gives us a powerful tool to push for change in police policies and training to better engage with these communities.”

Pandemic-era stress has manifested in some Western countries as xenophobia and violence directed at people of Asian and Pacific island decent, sparking the need for movements such as #StopAsianHate.

Xenophobia continues to be an area of concern for many in Japan’s foreign community, too, one that has only been exacerbated amid the COVID-19 pandemic due to border policies enacted to prevent the spread of the virus and a perception among the Japanese that non-Japanese people are more likely to carry it. The arrival of the omicron variant has made matters worse, prompting a sharp rise in new cases and continued border restrictions that have the full support of the public.

“We have received 773 responses in the first 24 hours of the survey,” says lawyer Junko Hayashi, who is coordinating the survey. “We are surprised by the number that we have received in such a short time. That shows how big an issue this is. We are hoping to have as many responses as possible so we can gain a fuller understanding of how widespread this problem is. I believe this is a critically important initiative.”

Saunders is hopeful that the project will result in meaningful action.

“Hopefully, we can use the information to spark important and broader conversations on the pervasive problem of stereotyping and ‘othering’ happening in Japan,” she says, adding that the goal should be “equitable treatment of everyone regardless of status or identity.”

Access the Tokyo Bar Association’s survey at bit.ly/racialprofilingJapan until Feb. 10. It is available in Japanese (both with kanji and without), English and Vietnamese.

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