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Disability Hate Leads to Mass Murder in Japan

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, 19 men and women were stabbed to death, and 25 others wounded, in the Tsukui Yamayuri-En centre for disabled people in Sagamihara near Tokyo, Japan. The attacker, 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, worked at Tsukui Yamayuri-En for four years until he was dismissed in February after expressing hateful views about disabled people.

It appears that Uematsu tied up the carers who were on duty at the facility before going room to room and stabbing 45 people in under an hour. The victims ranged in age from 19 to 70. All were disabled.

Uematsu went on to hand himself into police, apparently admitting what he had done and stating that it was “better that the disabled disappear”. This was not the first time his dangerous views had been viewed by officials; he had sent a letter to Parliament five months prior to the attack. In a translation published by the South China Morning Post, in his letter, Uematsu states:

Dear Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima,

Thank you very much for reading this letter. I can wipe out a total of 470 disabled individuals.

I am fully aware that my remark is eccentric. However, thinking about the tired faces of guardians, the dull eyes of caregivers working at the facility, I am not able to contain myself, and so I decided to take action today for the sake of Japan and the world.

[…]

I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.

I believe there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery.

I think now is the time to carry out a revolution and to make the inevitable but tough decision for the sake of all mankind. Let Japan take the first big step.

There is a lot of speculation about Uematsu’s mental health, given that he had been forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward until just a few weeks before the attack. However, to focus only on this is to ignore the massive warning signs that his attack should raise for us: that the day-to-day disability hate that many disabled people experience – in every country in the world – is not a victimless, harmless ‘thought crime’ or an imagined exaggeration. The hatred of disabled people, whether that hatred is judged by others to be rational or irrational (i.e. mentally healthy or mentally unwell), is ever present.

In the UK, the austerity conditions that judge disabled people to be taking too much out of a system that must shrink in size lead members of the public to resent our very existence. In the US, police brutality targets disabled people disproportionately, with half of the people who are killed by the cops being disabled. There is nowhere where we are safe, where bitterness is not leading to discrimination, violence and death.

To every disabled person, Uematsu’s comments may be shocking but they are no surprise. They are the utterances of somebody who is voicing what many people believe. Perhaps in a more extreme way, and perhaps more explicitly, but his hatred and resentment of disabled people is simply an exaggerated form of the hatred and resentment we see all around us, in strangers, in our friends and family, in the actions of our governments and law enforcement.

Does that make him ill? Or merely a more extreme version of the people who tell me I’m a scrounger or a waste of resources, following tabloid campaigns or harsh new laws?

Is he ill? Or does he just actually embody the same attitudes that throw a big prom for a school girl once she decides to kill herself? The attitudes that make a film about a man committing suicide into some kind of honourable romance? The attitudes that make strangers tell me they’d rather die than be like me?

If Uematsu’s anger was caused by a cannabis-induced psychosis, as doctors speculated when he was detained, the ideas that preoccupied him were still no different to the prejudiced attitudes that prevail around the world about whether we have worthwhile lives, whether we are useless eaters. If his violence was related to a brain condition, his beliefs would still be considered valid by many, even if they would not approve of the approach he took to bring those beliefs into action.

Inquiries will look into whether there were failings in the way the Parliament, the police and the psychiatric hospital in question dealt with Satoshi Uematsu in the months leading up to his mass murder. But if they don’t also look into the disablist attitudes that overwhelm societies, they will not save lives and they will not improve a world where disabled people can be killed en masse by someone who had bragged to authorities, months in advance, about why he intended to do exactly what he went on to do.

Photo: Dansk Handicap/Creative Commons

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Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women’s issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.

3 thoughts on “Disability Hate Leads to Mass Murder in Japan

  1. I was in Japan in the early 1970s and was surprised at Japanese attitudes towards, particularly physical, disability. I assumed then that it came out of their pure race approach to life, their uniqueness, history, etc. Disabled people appeared to be really rejected and not considered worthwhile as part of their society. I thought that had changed in recent years, but maybe not. Blind people fared better and were trained so they could work and contribute. I’d appreciate an update on this from someone.

  2. I’ve lived in Japan for several years and I have never experienced any hate towards my physical disability, except for my ex boyfriend’s family, who didn’t accept me and told him to not marry me because I would be a burden to him (I took more care of him than he did of me tbh). This horrible mass-murder shocked me and made me think back to the time I spent in Japan and how different it was for me and maybe I was just lucky to have solely including and accepting people in my life but I never heard such horrific views on disabled people by strangers even. It’s hard to wrap my head around how people can plan and perform such acts, because they think that one group of people are a waste.

  3. The elimination of the “less worthy” and “inferior” underscored the human history from very early on: slaves, war captives, Armenian genocide, Crusaders, Huguenot massacre, Nazi eugenics, the rape of Nanjing, only to list a few. What makes this case in Japan particularly noteworthy is that so little attention or reaction has been given to it — as if to say, ultimately, it’s OKAY to do this. The idea that humans each must contribute to the society (as the liberal society has it) and only on the basis of that, humans earn the right to exist, is completely unfounded: no human can possibly completely independent throughout one’s life — in infancy, in illness, in bereavement, humans are dependent on each other. Without recognizing this, we will not reach a truly humane society. While Japan is one massive example of disregard to this notion, it is not at all an exception. The disdain given to the welfare recipients in the US, for example, pretty much stands on the same idea that the less worthy should be eliminated. And who decides who is worthy? On what basis? The vast silence given to this case makes the rest of us complicit in it.

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