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Tuesday, July 1, 2008
JUST BE CAUSE
July forecast: rough, with ID checks mainly in the north
I have suggested before (Zeit Gist, Dec. 18, 2007) that Japan shouldn't host major international events. Unfettered police power and insufficient media scrutiny create a virtual police state, inconveniencing everyone.
I've likewise criticized the Hokkaido G8 Summit (Zeit Gist, Apr. 22) — not only as a waste of resources (an estimated $700 million spent, mostly on "security"), but also because police harass foreign-looking people as if they're all potential terrorists.
Like me. On June 19, flying from Tokyo to Chitose Airport, Hokkaido, I was snagged by a plainclothes cop (a Mr. Ohtomo, Hokkaido Police badge #522874) for exiting baggage claim while Caucasian. He wanted to see my "gaijin" card, citing summit security. I told him I was Japanese. Then he demanded proof of that. Repeatedly. Missing my train, I said I would cooperate if he asked three Asians for ID.
He obliged, but the first Japanese businessman he buttonholed blew him off without breaking his stride. So I said, "If he needn't show ID, neither should I. By law, you can't ID citizens without probable cause, right?" He agreed, apologized for confusing me with a foreigner, and let me go.
Fortunately, I made an audio recording of the proceedings and took cell-phone photos of the cops' stakeout — clear evidence that the cops only zapped the flight's four white passengers (myself and three Australians).
So I decided to lodge a complaint for racial profiling, as well as wasting resources on ineffective antiterrorist checks. (Check Asians too. After all, what terrorist worth his saltpeter would fly in and stand out as an obvious gaijin?)
On June 25, I submitted a formal letter of protest to the Hokkaido Police (HP), asking: 1) How do you spot potential terrorists? and 2) How will HP avoid mere "gaijin hunting" in future?
But they weren't cooperative. Despite my making an appointment in advance, HP wouldn't let me talk to the department in charge of security. I was sequestered to an interrogation room for a one-on-one with some receptionist with no authority to give definitive answers.
There would be no verifiable record of our conversation, either. A couple dozen reporters I had invited were denied entry into our meeting, even barred from treading upon HP property.
Although I brought my trusty audio recorder, police forced me to switch it off and remove its batteries. If I didn't comply, they threatened to reject my letter (an act of questionable legality).
HP used every trick in the book to avoid accountability. Mr. Flunky, who didn't even present his business card, simply denied that foreigners were being targeted (despite Mr Ohtomo's taped admission). He refused to comment for this column, and could not promise any answers to my questions in writing. Or at all.
Afterwards, I gave a press conference attended by, surprisingly, every major media outlet. The vibe was palpable: misgivings about the incredible expense for security overkill, including importing thousands of police (and their cars) from the mainland.
This is not unprecedented. In 2002, thousands of police were brought over to catch "hooligans" at Sapporo's World Cup England vs. Argentina match. Yet for all the tax outlay and gaijin harassment, only one non-Japanese was arrested (plus four Japanese) — for scalping. I submitted a letter of protest back then too, but HP refused to issue any written reply, or even apologize for all the "meiwaku" (trouble). "If we hadn't done all this, the hooligans would have come," claimed another functionary. That time, alas, the press ignored it.
Not this time. Still, press reportage wound up being mild, with no police feet held to any fires. Yoo-hoo, watchdogs?
Meanwhile, I keep receiving word of more gaijin crackdowns. Kamesei Ryokan, in faraway Nagano, sent word that ministries have just ordered hotels nationwide to check all "foreign guests," aka potential Summit terrorists. A journalist friend also reported that registered non-Japanese summit journalists are being detained at the border and deported. And so on.
No doubt HP would aver that non-Japanese are still not being targeted. But given all the evidence, that's pretty poor detective work.
Hang on, folks — it's going to be a rough July. And just wait: These summits happen here every eight years, so if Tokyo also gets the Olympics in 2016, we'll have a double whammy. And, unless Japan develops more public accountability, that means more money for the police, and more meiwaku for those who unfortunately look foreign.