National / Media | DARK SIDE OF THE RISING SUN

Sitting on reform of the criminal justice system only exacerbates the problem

by Jake Adelstein

One of my favorite Japanese sayings is “Zen wa isoge,” or “Make haste to do what is right.” Such a philosophy is particularly true insofar as crime prevention is concerned — if you move too slowly, or not at all, terrible things can happen.

This was certainly the case in the deadly knife attack at a care facility for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 26.

The attack on the Tsukui Yamayuri En care home left 19 dead and 26 injured. Satoshi Uematsu, a 26-year-old former employee of the facility, allegedly sliced the residents’ necks as they slept, stabbing some in the chest or slashing their throats, according to investigative sources.

A slew of warning signs has led some to question whether authorities should have done more to prevent the attack.

On Feb. 14, Uematsu tried to hand-deliver a three-page letter to Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima at his official residence in Tokyo.

“I am able to kill 470 disabled people,” he stated in his letter, which went on to detail how he would do it, saying he would attack at night when fewer workers were on duty, bind them with zip ties, slaughter residents and then turn himself in.

A few days later, Uematsu made similar remarks to his co-workers at Tsukui Yamayuri En. He quit the next day.

The police, meanwhile, reported the case to the Sagamihara Municipal Government, which decided to commit Uematsu to a psychiatric hospital out of concern he could harm others. At the hospital, Uematsu tested positive for marijuana and was diagnosed with marijuana-induced psychosis and paranoid disorder. However, he was not diagnosed as an addict and was released on March 2.

On July 26, Uematsu did, more or less, what he had threatened to do earlier in the year.

It’s tempting to play the blame game and yet the authorities may have done all that they possibly could have under existing legislation. Uematsu had committed no crime. Two days after his release, police found that Uematsu was staying with his parents and requested that they be kept informed about his behavior. The care facility, meanwhile, followed police advice and installed 16 security cameras. On the night of the attack, police officers arrived on the scene promptly after the first 110 phone call.

Could more have been done? Quite possibly, but in order to prevent a foreseeable crime from being carried out, it’s essential to have the correct legal framework in place before a crime can be committed. And even if this is the case, the law needs to be enforced.

The country’s stalking legislation is a striking example of how slow law enforcement can be when authorities haven’t been given a mandate to act before a crime is committed.

On May 21, the police in Tokyo arrested Tomohiro Iwasaki on charges of assault and attempted murder after the 27-year-old attacked idol pop singer Mayu Tomita at a live house where she was performing.

Tomita was stabbed 20 times by her stalker, despite her frequent consultations with the authorities prior to the assault. The manager of the club where she performed wrote a blistering account of the police’s failure to address the problem in the June issue of Shukan Gendai.

The manager noted that Tomita had even asked the police to guard the venue on the day of the attack, but had been rebuffed. In addition, it was later discovered that the assailant had made similar threats to a woman three years ago, but the Manseibashi Police Station had failed to follow up on the case or record his name in its database.

When Tomita consulted the police, she was brushed aside because Iwasaki had been repeatedly hostile to her on Twitter, a social network site that is not covered by existing anti-stalking legislation.

Komeito and the Liberal Democratic Party set up a working team to suggest revisions to the law that would be submitted to the Diet this autumn.

“Even if it’s just one day early, we want to make the expanded laws a reality as soon as possible,” Komeito Secretary-General Yoshihisa Inoue said May 27.

The proposed new anti-stalking laws would make repeated unwanted contact via Twitter and other social network services a criterion for stalking and would simplify the procedures so that a stalker could be handed a cease and desist order quickly. Violating such an order could result in an arrest. More severe punishments are being considered as well.

In my humble opinion, this is how it should have been handled from the beginning. However, the country’s lawmakers and law enforcers appear to have a terrible habit of twiddling their thumbs instead of making essential legal reforms. Sadly, the consequences of such delay are sometimes deadly. Let’s hope both politicians and law enforcement agencies know their Japanese proverbs and make haste to do what is right.

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.

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