NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. - A riot police officer dispatched from Osaka to help local police respond to anti-base protests in Okinawa Prefecture hurled an ethnic slur at protesters, calling them dojin, meaning aboriginal, police officials said Wednesday.
The incident came amid intensifying confrontations between riot police and local residents over the construction of helipads at a U.S. military training site in the northern part of the prefecture.
Shortly before 10 a.m. on Tuesday, several protesters were pushing on a fence near a gate to the Northern Training Area straddling the villages of Kunigami and Higashi as more than a dozen riot police officers on the opposite side of the fence warned them to desist.
A male officer in his 20s from the Osaka Prefectural Police said to the protesters, “What do you think you are grabbing, you idiots? You dojin,” according to the officials. Dojin has a negative connotation and is the equivalent of a racial slur in this context. The officer has admitted to making the remark.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the officer’s behavior was “inappropriate and extremely regrettable.
“It must not be forgiven,” Suga said.
Hironobu Kina, deputy chief of the second security division of the Okinawa Prefectural Police, said he will give instructions to prevent a recurrence.
Video footage uploaded to online video-sharing site YouTube showed another riot police officer saying, “Shut up, shinajin.” Shina is a derogatory term for China, while jin means person or people.
The Okinawa police said they were checking the video.
Regarding the slur by the police officer from Osaka, a 56-year-old woman who lives in the village of Higashi and opposes the helipad construction said, “This is terrible. (They were) looking at us in such a discriminatory way.”
The incident is the latest in a string of confrontations between riot police and protesters who oppose the helipad construction due to safety and noise issues associated with the use of helipads already built in the training area.
Riot police forcibly removed two local newspaper reporters covering demonstrations near the helipad construction site in August, and in late September they forcibly removed protesters using ropes, injuring a man in his 60s who resisted.
The United States agreed in 1996 to return to Japan about 4,000 of the around 7,800 hectares that make up the training range, provided that six helipads are relocated to an area to be retained. Some of the helipads have already been built, but construction of the remaining helipads has run into fierce local opposition.
Hundreds of riot police officers have been sent to Okinawa from across the country to deal with the protesters around the training area.