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Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006

Plaintiff gets redress but not for racial bias

High court tells shopkeeper with avowed hatred of blacks to pay 350,000 yen


Staff writer

OSAKA -- A black American man won a partial victory Wednesday in a discrimination suit against a shopkeeper who had barred his entry, when the Osaka High Court ruled that the defendant's action was illegal, but not racially biased despite his stated bigotry, and awarded the plaintiff 350,000 yen.

In overturning the lower court ruling, the high court ordered optical shop owner Takashi Narita to pay 350,000 yen in compensation to Steve McGowan, 42. McGowan had sued for racial discrimination over an incident that occurred outside the shop in September 2004.

McGowan testified that he was standing on the street with a friend looking at glasses in the front window when Narita shouted at him to leave, telling him he hated black people. Narita also told the court that he hated black people.

The Osaka District Court ruled against McGowan in January, claiming there was no evidence of racial discrimination and it was questionable whether McGowan's Japanese language ability was sufficient to understand what Narita had said.

The high court avoided ruling whether Narita's words and actions were racially discriminatory, but said it recognized that the remarks were illegal.

"The ruling is only a partial victory. But it's a beginning that will hopefully end in the elimination of racial discrimination in Japan," McGowan said.

His lawyer, Masao Niwa, said that the money McGowan was awarded was small compared with amounts that have been awarded in other discrimination suits and that it was a reflection of the court's hesitation to rule strongly that the treatment constituted racial discrimination.

McGowan's case has been a rallying point for human rights groups, which are pushing for a law banning all forms of racial discrimination. The case has also been cited by Doudou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, as an example of why Japan should enact such a law.

"Racism does exist in Japan. And foreigners like me, who are long-term residents, are not invading this nation," McGowan said. "But I don't want (discrimination) to happen to my children or my friends' children."

McGowan said he has not decided whether to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

"It was a ruling that stopped just short of declaring racial discrimination" lawyer Niwa said.



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