YOKOHAMA – After Satoshi Uematsu’s alleged killing spree at a care home in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, two months ago, media outlets criticized the police for withholding the victims’ names as requested by their families, who apparently did not want to reveal that their kin had disabilities.
But they weren’t the only ones upset. Members of People First, an international organization for people with intellectual disabilities, said Wednesday the withholding of names went to the crux of why they felt discriminated against.
Moreover, they voiced the need for people with disabilities to be integrated into society rather than secluded in a care facility.
More than 1,000 members of People First from around the world came to Yokohama to mourn the July 26 massacre at Tsukui Yamayuri En care home, a stabbing spree that left 19 dead and 26 injured in Japan’s worst mass killing since the war.
After offering a silent prayer for the victims, the members held a panel discussion on three topics: why the identities of the victims were not disclosed; why care facilities for such people are kept at arm’s length from society; and the eugenic beliefs reportedly espoused by the suspect.
“The suspect’s belief that people with disabilities are unnecessary was targeted at us. We are first and foremost human beings, not people with disabilities,” said Chiaki Nakayama, chairwoman of the organization.
“Without the names, we can’t tell who died. We’re all given names. We’re all human beings,” said Tsutomu Konishi, an executive member of People First.
“Our friends were not treated as people even after death. It’s hard for me to accept that we will still be discriminated against even after death,” said Akio Tsuchimoto, a representative of the Hokkaido branch.
He also emphasized that disabled people should be allowed to participate more actively in society rather than stay hidden away at care facilities outside of the city.
“Even if we have disabilities, we are born to live our own brilliant lives. We must form a society that believes that their birth is a blessing,” he said.
In 2014, Japan ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which aims “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” The document also emphasizes the importance of getting such people to engage with the community rather than placing them in care homes.
But nearly 130,000 in Japan are residents in such facilities, Tsuchimoto said.
“Even if we raise our voices, it won’t be heard because we’re locked up in these facilities,” he said. “We need to be treated as people. Having disabilities doesn’t matter.”
Other participants agreed.
“It’s better to live in a community than be placed in a facility. I’m living in a group home in a community. I’m married to Nakayama and we are living together. I’m very happy about that,” said a man who identified himself by his surname Nomura.
“Media outlets should have covered our situation, instead of repeatedly reporting about the suspect,” said Tomoka Araki. “Some of us are not good at voicing our opinions, but I want the media to know that we are trying very hard to raise our voices.”
A woman visiting from South Korea said through an interpreter: “I cannot forgive what Uematsu has done. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my child had been killed.”