With prosecutors’ indictment of the man accused of committing the deadly stabbing spree at a care facility for people with disabilities in Kanagawa Prefecture last summer, it will now be in the hands of the judiciary to unravel the man’s motives behind the horrific crime. At the same time, efforts to come to grips with how and why this man came to harbor his distorted views toward the victims — that people with disabilities are not needed in society and should be eliminated for their own salvation — and the fight against such ways of thinking should not be confined to the courtroom but shared across society as a whole.
After killing 19 residents and injuring 27 others in the attack last July at the facility in Sagamihara where he used to be a care worker, Satoshi Uematsu, 27, was subjected to a psychiatric evaluation over a five-month period to judge if he is mentally fit to be held criminally responsible for his acts. The Yokohama District Prosecutor’s Office indicted Uematsu on Friday on charges of murder and attempted murder as they determined that he is mentally competent to be tried. He was judged to be able to tell right from wrong, although he was diagnosed as suffering narcissistic personal disorder — a condition in which people have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, an excessive desire for admiration by others and a lack of understanding of others.
Along with the grisly nature of attacking and killing the defenseless victims, what drew people’s attention to the crime was Uematsu’s acts of openly discussing his plan for the killing spree months before carrying it out — with his colleagues at work and even in a letter addressed to the speaker of the Lower House — which forced him into treatment at a mental institution, from which he was released after 13 days. Seven months after his arrest, the man is reported to be repeating to investigators his conceited ideas about people with disabilities, which smack of eugenics, to justify the murders.
It will be up to the courts to determine the motives behind the killings, which will be a crucial step in preventing similar crimes in the future. But the Sagamihara rampage and people’s reaction to it have also indicated that prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities remain deep-seated in our society. During a gathering held in January to pray for the victims six months after the massacre, a representative of an organization of people with disabilities noted that there are “large numbers of accomplices” to the crime, referring to comments posted on the internet that agree with Uematsu’s self-righteous arguments. It is a question that all of us in society need to face up to.
That authorities effectively lost track of Uematsu after he was discharged from the mental hospital in March last year — four months before the killing spree — has led the government to review the scheme under which people are forced into such institutions under administrative order when their mental conditions are deemed to pose potential harm to others. The government plans to submit to the current Diet session an amendment to the law on mental hygiene and welfare so that patients placed in mental hospitals under the scheme will be given sufficient follow-up care after they are discharged to ensure their social rehabilitation.
Uematsu reportedly received little care after his release. As the government says, continued support for such patients and efforts to prevent them from being isolated in their local communities will help their rehabilitation. It must be confirmed, however, that such measures will be taken to aid their rehabilitation, not to keep them under constant surveillance. There is criticism that the government is focusing too much on revamping the scheme as its response to the Sagamihara killings — that it is misguided to count on the scheme, aimed at providing treatment for the patients, to serve as a deterrent to crime. The government also needs to set aside enough funding and manpower to ensure the effectiveness of the updated scheme, which will likely impose additional burdens on local authorities and medical institutions.
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