Remembering the Sagamihara 19 – A Continuing Struggle (CN: Violence)

Last July, I published on the silence around the Sagamihara 19, troubled that the Anglophone press was largely ignoring the attack. It’s the worst targeted killing of disabled people by an individual in modern history, comparable to acts of wartime genocide by the Nazis, in Rwanda, and Bosnia (and elsewhere). I wrote, among other things:

The international media has largely let the story go. Both Vox and the Wall Street Journal ran pieces on the rarity of mass violence in Japan, focusing largely on what that rarity might say about the American debate around access to firearms. Otherwise, the news cycles have shifted back to the U.S. presidential race, international terrorism, police violence, and the other usual things. News sites such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Salon, Slate, Time, and Newsweek either ran very short notices when the attack happened or published nothing on Sagamihara. None have published follow-ups. The New York Times ran five stories in the first two days, but has not yet published any in-depth reporting on disability in Japan that might take advantage of the resources of the paper of record to contextualize the loss of life. A singularly historic and tragic event like this deserves more attention from the world.

I’m pleased to say that the New York Times, with a new bureau editor in Tokyo, has now written a long and excellent piece about the victims and the silences. To be clear, I am in no way taking credit for this (I don’t want you all to think I’m claiming that I somehow pressured the paper; they don’t read me), just that I’m pleased and I think it’s very good. The NYT, like few other outlets in the world, has the resources to tell stories that others can’t. This one focuses on the silences within Japanese culture.

Motoko Rich, the author, interviewed disability rights advocates and met with survivors of the attack and their families:

ZAMA, Japan — A vicious knife attack killed his roommate at a facility for the developmentally disabled in July, but Kazuya Ono does not know that.

Mr. Ono, 43, survived slashes to his throat and stomach by the attacker, a former caregiver at the group home, and remains in a hospital nearby.

When he is agitated, he scratches himself so vigorously that he leaves marks on his face and arms. He shouts “blood, blood, blood!” at his nurses. He refuses to eat the hospital food, so his parents, Takashi and Chikiko Ono, bring Kazuya’s favorite curry and grapes for lunch.

The Onos, who live here in Zama, a suburb of Yokohama, want the world to know more about their cherished son, who is autistic and has the mental capacity of a toddler. He is one of 26 survivors of the knife attacks that left 19 dead in Sagamihara, a mountain town outside Tokyo. The assailant reportedly told the police that he wanted to “eliminate the disabled from the world.”

He may have accomplished that in more ways than he intended. The victims of the worst mass killing in Japan since World War II have also been eliminated from the public imagination. People do not even know their names, let alone the details of their lives.
The police in Kanagawa Prefecture have declined to release the identities of the victims, citing the families’ desire for privacy, in a decision that is increasingly drawing criticism around Japan.

Advocates for disabled people say withholding the names is consistent with a culture that considers them lesser beings. Keeping the victims hidden, even after their deaths, these advocates say, tacitly endorses the views of those — including the assailant — who say disabled people should be kept separate from the rest of society.

Erasing the victims serves the killer’s agenda. Erasing the victims victimizes them again. This is not about respect, but shame.

The key is the Japanese voices are objecting. That’s where change will come from, not from me, a writer in Chicagoland. 
So glad to see this piece. 

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