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Friday, Oct. 29, 1999

Violence tears Brazilian community


Staff writer

KONOSU, Saitama Pref. -- Uneasiness, fear and anger have dominated the community of Brazilian residents here these days, due to a series of what appear to be indiscriminate attacks on the ethnic group.

Over the past few weeks, some Brazilians, as well as other South American and Japanese residents, have had their dwellings or vehicles damaged. Meanwhile, a Brazilian junior high school girl appears to have become the target of masked bikers.

As the victims are not related to the assumed cause of the spate of violence, residents fear anyone could be next.

The incidents seem to stem from a fight that occurred on the night of Sept. 26 between two Brazilians and a 17-year-old Japanese boy in front of a Seven-Eleven in the city's suburbs. The Brazilian males are thought to be in their late teens or early twenties.

The cause of the fight is not clear, but an officer at the Konosu Police Station said the two Brazilians, believed to be drunk, struck the teen on the head with what appeared to be a beer mug. The boy was taken to a hospital and treated for cuts that required 30 to 40 stitches and a few days' hospitalization, he said.

According to International Press Corp., a Portuguese- and Spanish-language television and newspaper company, the two Brazilians, nicknamed "Junior" and "Carioca," fled to Nagoya, home to one of Japan's largest Brazilian communities. No further details were given on the two.

Although the victim filed a complaint with the police, he later dropped the case, saying the matter had been settled with the job placement agency to which the parents of one of his attackers belonged, police said.

The agency, however, told The Japan Times that it has nothing to do with the two Brazilians or their families. It refused to comment further.

On the night of Oct. 11, the car and apartment windows of Brazilian, Bolivian, Peruvian and Japanese residents throughout the city were shattered. Konosu police said a total of 14 cases were reported that night and the next day. The parents of both alleged attackers were spared, thanks in at least one case to the presence of a security camera at the entrance of the family's apartment complex, IPC said.

A week later, on the morning of Oct. 18, Shirley Oka, a 15-year-old Brazilian, was on her way to school when four masked men on three motorcycles surrounded her.

"The one who did the talking asked me where the two (Brazilians involved in the fight) were. So I told him I didn't know, because I really didn't. They (the Brazilians) were totally strangers to me," said Oka, whose father is a second-generation Japanese.

"The masked men threatened me, saying that if I told the police about them, they would attack my apartment because they know where it is," she said.

The group's apparent leader tore her school uniform while another covered her mouth from behind, she said. They then fled the scene.

Frightened, Shirley ran back to her apartment, and then she and her mother informed police. After hearing her story, officers advised her to be careful and not to go to school alone, she said.

The following day, the Oka family came home to find the apartment in disarray and about 30,000 yen in cash and two rings missing.

On the evening of Oct. 20, the apartment window of the Okas' Japanese neighbor was broken.

A Konosu police officer said the city had never before experienced incidents of violence between the Brazilian and Japanese communities. Investigators are continuing the probe based on suspicions that the September fight could have triggered them.

The officer said, however, that police have yet to find witnesses. He said the number of patrol cars and officers in the area has been increased so they will be ready to deal with whatever may happen.

Since the attacks, teachers at Oka's junior high school have voluntarily taken turns to accompany her and other Brazilian students home.

As of the beginning of October, 581 Brazilians were registered in Konosu, making up more than 50 percent of the city's 1,089 foreign residents.

Like Oka's parents and the parents of one of the two Brazilians allegedly involved in the fight, more than a half of the city's Brazilian population, through job placement agencies, work for Tokyo Seat Co., an auto components manufacturer located in the neighboring city of Gyoza.

Oka's parents, Roberto, 41, and Denise, 35, have lived in Konosu for seven years. They say it was wrong for the two Brazilians to use violence on the teenage boy, but they are also outraged about the attacks on their daughter and other Brazilians.

"My daughter has nothing to do with the two boys," Denise Oka said. "Why did she have to be involved?"

Her husband said people at his workplace are considering teaming up to find the offenders in order to protect their families and prevent the escalation of violence. At the same time, however, they fear that the move may make things even worse.

"If the police don't treat the case seriously, the Brazilian community will lose trust in them," said Ronni Ota, a resident of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, where about 12 percent of the city's population are foreigners, including Brazilians.

Ota is a leader of an Oizu-

mi-based private crime prevention group consisting of Brazilians and Japanese residents.

He added that it will make things worse if the Brazilian community tries to cope with the incidents itself.

Meanwhile, Shirley Oka says she is too scared to stay home alone or to hang out with her friends on weekends. Her parents are also worried about her safety.

To reduce anxiety and in fear of another attack, the Okas have decided to send Shirley back to Rio de Janeiro to live with her grandmother next month.

"It's better that I go back, because I'm very scared," she said. "But I have many friends here and it'll be really sad to quit school and leave them."

Oka said she wishes to return to Konosu if the incident is settled and peace is restored. The nightmare, however, continues.

On Wednesday, a fire broke out at the Okas' apartment.

Sick with a cold and slight fever, Shirley left school early and came home with her mother. After the two finished lunch, they took a nap.

The next thing they knew, the apartment was on fire. The two were forced to jump from the second-floor window, barely escaping the blaze.

According to Konosu police, the fire broke out inside the apartment at around 2:30 p.m. It was extinguished later that afternoon, but the family's residence was destroyed. The seven other units of the apartment complex escaped damage, they said.

Police said the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

Oka said neither she nor her mother know how the fire occurred. What she does know is that the family has lost everything.

The Oka family has sought shelter at another apartment provided by a job placement agency. But it will not be long before Shirley and her mother leave Konosu for Rio.



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