Sagamihara silence

Some of you may have read about the horrifying attack that took place at a care home for disabled people in Japan in July, and some of you will not. If you haven’t, you’re not a bad or uninformed person; you’re the proof that this story did not receive adequate attention, particularly from the Government.

The attack took place in Sagamihara, about 30 miles south-west of Tokyo, and has been stated to be Japan’s worst mass killing in post-war history, with 19 deaths and more injuries. The man who committed the murders had previously worked at the care home and was known to the Japanese Government as having a severe hatred of disabled people. In a letter to the Japanese Parliament, he demanded all disabled people be euthanized. He was committed to a psychiatric hospital after the letter but was released 12 days later as the doctor believed he posed no risk to others. An odd decision considering he offered to carry out hundreds of killings of the disabled himself. If you want to read more about the events of the attack I would recommend The Guardian’s coverage.

What I read was sickening and was reminded of the all too real vulnerability disabled people deal with every day. I reacted to the news on a personal level as it was my community that was the target of a violent attack; however I do not feel this discredits my argument that the murders should have received more attention. An able-bodied person will feel horrified by the news, but only a disabled person can think “it could have been me” and want to do everything in their power to ensure it never is.

I read the statement issued by The White House, but found nothing that commented on the impact of the attack on the disabled community in Japan or in the UK. There was, and still is, no official statement made by the UK Government either offering sympathy to the victims or condemning the huge hate crime against disabled people; and if you missed this story this would be a huge contributory reason to why you could have. The lack of any acknowledgement almost made me as upset as the crime itself. It is unbelievable and disappointing that 19 people who were murdered by a person who once looked after them didn’t seem to warrant an acknowledgement from the Government and didn’t start a public campaign of solidarity that attacks on other minority groups have received. Part of the reason for this is that no one is calling this attack what it is: a hate crime. It has been called a ‘knife attack’ or a ‘mass killing’ but what it is, a mass murder by a man who hated and targeted disabled people, cannot be ignored.

The lack of any official statement by the UK Government illustrates the extreme lack of attention disabled people’s issues and the disabled community receive. After the attack, I emailed Penny Mordaunt, the new Minister for Disabled People, to ask why she of all the members of Parliament had not made a statement about the murders. I got a reply from one of her assistants directing me to the ‘Prime Minister’s calls with international leaders’ webpage where there was one sentence about halfway down where it says Ms May expressed her condolences but then moved on to how important Japanese investment is in the UK. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but there isn’t actually any mention of disabled people or the fact that this was a shocking hate crime. Whilst this sentence is “public” in the loosest sense of the word, I was unable to find it myself with all the research skills a law degree provides. It is not an official statement which can only be interpreted as meaning this horrific event wasn’t important enough to warrant one.

When I asked Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, one of the most celebrated Para-Olympians in the UK and member of the House of Lords, her thoughts on why the attack went so unnoticed she had this to say. “I find it upsetting that there is little public outcry when disabled people are murdered. Once again it shows that many disabled people are not considered the same, and that as a result their life has less value. Even quietly it sends out a message that disabled people are worth less and this impacts on disabled people in subtle ways that won’t be as harsh as hate crime (although it might be), but makes them believe they are worth less.”

I am in complete agreement with the Baroness and was comforted in some small way that I wasn’t the only disabled person who believes the 19 people murdered deserve acknowledgement. I contacted Penny Mordaunt among others to make them aware their lack of response was noticed and is unacceptable. I wanted someone to call the attack a hate crime and give the disabled community recognition and assurance that the Government is committed to ensuring that hate crime against the disabled is minimalised, but I am still disappointed.

A vigil took place for the victims on August 4th outside the Japanese Embassy in London. You can find pictures and messages of solidarity on the Facebook event page. There you will also find a letter from the Embassy of Japan expressing appreciation to everyone who came and organised the vigil and thanking everyone for their messages of condolences for the victims. If you couldn’t make it to the vigil, there is an online Book of Condolence to the 19 victims and their loved ones where you can express your sympathy and your solidarity with the entire disabled community that these murders be acknowledged and remembered.

By Emma Vogalmann

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