Letters to the Editor,
The Daily Yomiuri,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8055
Often, shockingly, the peace and security of Japanese society are threatened by the behavior of Japanese police themselves. I propose that Japanese police, who are partly funded out of my own pocket, do less to serve my interests as a resident of this country than they do to threaten me personally, plus the rule of law and the greater humanitarianism of society for all Japanese citizens as well.
As a recent example of convenience, I refer to the story "Man dies in custody; police seek accuser" (February 22) which reports on the death in police custody in Mie Prefecture of a 68-year-old man detained on suspicion of theft on the basis of an anonymous accusation. The speculation now is that the man was innocent after all, and that the shock of wrongful arrest led to fatally high blood pressure in detention. The accuser, who fled the scene, is now being sought by the police.
A spokesman is quoted saying, "There is a strong possibility the man was innocent." What a thing to say! He had a legal right to the presumption of innocence and protection under the law in the first place. The law in this country does actually declare the presumption of innocence until a reasonable demonstration of guilt. It is an American legal provision written into Japan's postwar constitution and legal code revisions by SCAP himself. But like a lot of things in Japan, the technical truth cannot stand up to the force of custom - which in this case is an almost blanket presumption of guilt of suspects. Too often, Japanese police appear to do little to preserve our legal (and human) rights, which is something to alarm all residents of Japan - citizens and foreigners alike.
The Deputy Police Chief of the Yokkaichi-Minami Police Station in Mie Prefecture defends the detention of the man in question, claiming that the people involved acted in good faith, or that they did nothing other than what was called for. That they actually acted in error, and without right reason is destined never to be mentioned.
So, Japanese police are really scary. Civil society here is even under assault from those whose job is to safeguard us. Maybe there is a cultural supposition at work here that citizens serve the law, not the other way round. It is a lesson not just about police behavior, but about the behavior of those who over-estimate the authority with which they suppose they are invested.
Published Monday, March 1, 2004 as “Police pose more danger to public than criminals.”
The Japanese constitution guarantees people the right to the presumption of innocence, just as in America. But Japanese culture seems to give undue credibility to mere accusations.