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Police practice of stopping and questioning comes under media scrutiny

40 Comments
Image: iStock/Rich Legg

"Do I look that suspicious?" asks the headline on the cover of Shukan Kinyobi (March 29). The sub-head reads, "Racial discrimination by police who stop and question people who appear foreign."

The article concerns shokumu shitsumon, or shoku-shitsu for short, the police term for stopping and questioning individuals on the street or in other public places.

While the police behavior might strike some as being arbitrary, it benefits from ambiguous interpretation of Article 2 (1) of the Police Duties Execution Act (passed on July 12, 1948), which states: "A police official may stop and question any person for whom there is sufficient probable cause to suspect that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime...judging reasonably on the basis of unusual behavior and/or other surrounding circumstances."

Last January, three residents of Japan having foreign roots brought suit against the central and local governments over alleged racial profiling. The litigants claimed police questioning without probable cause violates Article 14 of Japan's Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on race or family origin, and sought damages of ¥3.3 million per person.

One of the plaintiffs -- a 26-year-old man who lives in Nagoya -- told reporters at a press conference there were occasions when he had been stopped by police twice in a day, and on one occasion had been stopped as soon as he stepped out of his house. Born in Pakistan, he had moved to Japan when he was eight years old.

Once when the man informed a policeman that he held Japanese citizenship, the officer reacted by asking, "If you obtained Japanese citizenship, did you dispense with your residence card? Can you go out without carrying it on your person?"

"I'd like to see a change in the police approach toward Japanese who have foreign roots," the litigant told Machi Kunizaki, an award-winning reporter for HuffPost Japan's News Editorial Department at Buzzfeed Japan.

In Kunizaki's view, the essence of racial profiling is not necessarily discriminatory attitudes of individual police officers, but a structural problem within police organizations that subject foreigners to scrutiny under the guise of "security measures."

A former police officer with 20 years on the force, identified as Mr A, was quoted in a sidebar as saying, "I was warned in particular that dark-skinned individuals might be carrying weapons."

"Until I became a police officer, I didn't harbor any negative image toward people from foreign countries," Mr A added. "But at the time I took my superior's words at face value and came to think that many foreign people have a propensity to crime or violence."

Mr A recalled that "instructions we received related to race were virtually nil." Along with such insufficient training, he noted a poor working environment within the police organization as another contributing factor.

After leaving police employment, Mr A became acquainted with a person with "black roots" [sic] who had been born and raised in Japan, and who poured out his resentment about the biased treatment he'd received when stopped and questioned by police.

"I imagine it's painful to be treated by police officers as a criminal suspect because of something you were born with, like skin color or ancestry," Mr A observed. "Police work involves people's lives. Although the issue of racial profiling should receive high priority, I'm concerned that racial education is too often neglected."

The first opening argument in the aforementioned lawsuit will be held at the Tokyo District Court next Monday, April 15.

Speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, attorney Motoki Taniguchi underscored the importance of the lawsuit.

"Many people with foreign roots are living and working in Japan," Taniguchi said. "If they are on the receiving end of this kind of discrimination, whether being Japanese or not, it damages the social community as a whole."

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40 Comments
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"I'd like to see a change in the police approach toward Japanese who have foreign roots," the litigant told Machi Kunizaki

A little disappointing to see this naturalizer "pulling the ladder up after himself", so to speak. The police shouldn't be hassling anyone who isn't suspicious, whether they hold Japanese nationality or not.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This can't be! Being stopped because they look different or are foreigners!

No!

I mean for the past several years in this comment section, I have been told over and over again that if I or someone else was being stopped, it was because we must have done something to attract police attention and or it is our attitude etc...

But of course, even after the court case, the article, we still have the:

" I have never seen this",

the

"I have never been stopped"

funny everyone that has ever said this to me when I push and ask a bit more suddenly admit they have but refuse to admit it and claim it was no different than others and was for a safety check, a bicycle check or some other excuse in order to ignore the fact they had been stopped.

I didn't even bother reading other comments but I already know what certain ones are going to say and how they are going to claim exactly what I wrote above and make excuses for the police!

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Really glad to see this issue getting more and more attention recently. It is an exercise in racism and discrimination.

"Many people with foreign roots are living and working in Japan," Taniguchi said. "If they are on the receiving end of this kind of discrimination, whether being Japanese or not, it damages the social community as a whole."

THIS!!! Extremely well said!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Some cops are idiots ,just as some people are idiots -The world will never be perfect so just do the best you can and don't let the little stuff get in your way !

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Support Japan Police !!!..

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

The Catch-22 is that Japanese citizens don't have to carry ID. So a naturalized citizen can (and is) still hassled to show their passport etc. when they are under no legal obligation to do so. And Japanese as a whole roundly reject the implementation of a national ID. You do not have to 'prove' you are Japanese. That defeats the purpose of naturalizing.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's really crummy that this is a thing yes, but some of us that are American feel safer with Japanese police than we did with American police. I'm hopeful within the next 10 years police in Japan change their training plan so it doesn't feel like it targets foreigners.

As an American it would benefit you to have identification paperwork always so I would continue to have that mindset anywhere I am but I do understand their pain to an extent, your co-workers, friends and neighbors don't get harassed by the police nor do you get the luxury of feeling as comfortable and safe as they do.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Some of you are going around in circles because of what the first poster wrote. It doesn’t matter what the law says, the J police is protected by the system. In other words, nothing will change. If you’re considered too different by Japanese society or if you have a certain appearance, you’re gonna have to deal with the J police (even if you’re a Japanese citizen). Japan isn’t gonna change anytime soon. The law and the system: two different things, but connected.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Well yes, there are cases like that but being confrontational when stopped will not help. It is always best to remain polite with the police

Very true. It's called being pragmatic.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This will only improve with better training and hopefully some foreigners becoming cops.

That will happen eventually, don't be shocked when you see a Black or White Japanese Police officer.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

This will only improve with better training and hopefully some foreigners becoming cops.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Speed

wallace

It is best to remain polite do what they request and soon move along.

> Yes, but that's not what always happens. When I was getting a parking ticket and I ran up to apologize and move my car, as soon as he saw I wasn't 100% I was quickly escorted to a koban. I was walked three blocks away through a throng of people who stared at me as if I was a criminal. Very embarrassing.

Well yes, there are cases like that but being confrontational when stopped will not help. It is always best to remain polite with the police.

Once there, that policeman mistakenly thought my international driver's license was expired (he didn't know the difference between "June" and "July") and I was held there for an hour and a half. When I was finally given a chance to explain his error, there was no apology and slid me my 25,000 yen ticket and pointed to the door.

Another car stopped, why?

I've had friends, wearing suits and business dresses, being constantly stopped and questioned on their way to work which resulted in them being late periodically, which negatively showed in their performance reviews by our company.

I guess so but in 30 years I have never been stopped.

The police really are not supposed to be stopping and questioning people unless they feel their is something suspicious or that a person is likely to commit a crime. That is the spirit of the law and it's being ignored and abused.

The police can stop foreigners over their right to be here.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

wallaceToday

It is best to remain polite do what they request and soon move along.

Yes, but that's not what always happens. When I was getting a parking ticket and I ran up to apologize and move my car, as soon as he saw I wasn't 100% I was quickly escorted to a koban. I was walked three blocks away through a throng of people who stared at me as if I was a criminal. Very embarrassing.

Once there, that policeman mistakenly thought my international driver's license was expired (he didn't know the difference between "June" and "July") and I was held there for an hour and a half. When I was finally given a chance to explain his error, there was no apology and slid me my 25,000 yen ticket and pointed to the door.

I've had friends, wearing suits and business dresses, being constantly stopped and questioned on their way to work which resulted in them being late periodically, which negatively showed in their performance reviews by our company.

The police really are not supposed to be stopping and questioning people unless they feel their is something suspicious or that a person is likely to commit a crime. That is the spirit of the law and it's being ignored and abused.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

It's a conundrum.

Once got stopped whilst skateboarding in Nagoya.

Police officer said I shouldn't be on the pavement(sidewalk).

Duly moved onto the road.

Five minutes later, stopped by another police officer.

Yep,you guessed it.'You should be on the pavement.'

I do respect them,though.

So much rigmarole and paperwork.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

"I was warned in particular that dark-skinned individuals might be carrying weapons."

Man that sucks. But as an olive skinned person I have also been stopped. The reason being that there are many foreigners in this area. You cannot resist the request as that would be viewed as "suspicious" and the cop would call for backup ruining your evening.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Oh, so then you understand the law has stood the test since 1948, more than 75 years, and hs withstood constitutional scrutiny for that time.

And that means that the law cannot be tested ever again?

If the law allows such stops, then end of story.

That is the point of the article and the lawsuit: Arguably the law does not allow such stops.

Now you look at this plain language quote, and throw your assumptions at it, and what do you get?

The impression that you are either trolling or actually incapable to comprehensively read basic English.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Nice deflection. Have a good one.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

Quit crying. Just answer their questions and get on with your day.

Previous one didn't help? Sorry about that. Try this one:

https://cotoacademy.com/studyinjapan/a-guide-to-getting-mental-health-support-in-japan/

All the best.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

A police officer can stop any non-Japanese and request an ID/passport/resident card.

A police officer can stop a Japanese citizen but cannot demand to see the ID since there is no law to carry one.

The problem is when a foreigner becomes a Japanese citizen.

An immigration officer can stop all persons within a port area. Usually, there are posted signs warning of that.

It is best to remain polite do what they request and soon move along.

The police racial profile.

I have never been stopped.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

And the Constitution since 1946.

Oh, so then you understand the law has stood the test since 1948, more than 75 years, and hs withstood constitutional scrutiny for that time.

If your point is that laws can not, nay, need not constantly be tested,

Well, that's your assumption, so not relevant to my conclusion.

I have to wonder about your motivations to argue otherwise.

Why are you still wondering? The motivation can be seen easily in my original post. Here:

If the law allows such stops, then end of story.

Now you look at this plain language quote, and throw your assumptions at it, and what do you get? Did you change the law? Or does the law still exist?

-21 ( +0 / -21 )

You were speaking of the law allowing stops.

Which, if you read the article, you would know it does.

/dev/random pointed out that the article is questioning whether the law does allow stops,

See above.

Easy, right?

so your response makes about as much sense as most of Bass' posts.

Ok, not easy for you.

Try from the top again.

This is an easy exercise for intelligent people.

-22 ( +0 / -22 )

It’s definitely an issue that deserves more and more attention. Basing your stop and searches based off bias or just false ideas formed from distortions and assumptions is just silly. Dark skin or hairstyle or even clothing being the core basis of criminality is exactly how you miss actual criminals. Stop people for suspicious behavior and actions not just because “well you got dreadlocks so you must sell drugs right?”

meanwhile the car parked on the road at 11pm with people walking up and walking away with little bags of stuff … nope must be a nice guy selling bread!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

 I don't think it's ambiguous at all. I think it's simply racism.

Quit crying. Just answer their questions and get on with your day.

-5 ( +9 / -14 )

the problem is not having any people left for checking suspicious people in a few years ahead.

Curious. What will happen to all the police officers in a few years, why will there not be any left?

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Yeah, if a cop pulls me over to just simply harass me, I tell them to take a hike, but that has happened only twice, they usually stay away from me, but most interactions were decent.

-9 ( +9 / -18 )

 the problem is not having any people left for checking suspicious people in a few years ahead.

Facial recognition and other types of AI are likely to be adopted eventually, with potentially problematic results for both Japanese and foreigners.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The problem is not checking suspicious people now, the problem is not having any people left for checking suspicious people in a few years ahead.

-10 ( +1 / -11 )

If they are racial profiling they aren't busy doing their actual jobs at a minimum.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

I'd love to see a Youtube video of one of these "Sovereign citizen" idiots getting pulled over in Japan.

Not going to lie, it took me a minute or two to realize you are refering to the nutjob SovCit movement. Do those people even have valid passports to enter another country?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I'd love to see a Youtube video of one of these "Sovereign citizen" idiots getting pulled over in Japan. Would probably last about two minutes in length.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

While the police behavior might strike some as being arbitrary, it benefits from ambiguous interpretation of Article 2 (1) of the Police Duties Execution Act (passed on July 12, 1948), which states: "A police official may stop and question any person for whom there is sufficient probable cause to suspect that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime...judging reasonably on the basis of unusual behavior and/or other surrounding circumstances."

The only interpretation I could discern from the wording that would explain these plaintiffs' complaint is that police officers are more likely to "suspect that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime" if that person doesn't look Japanese. Unless not looking Japanese is considered a "surrounding circumstance." I don't think it's ambiguous at all. I think it's simply racism.

Anyway, good luck. (And I mean that both sincerely and sarcastically)

4 ( +9 / -5 )

This law has stood since 1948.

And the Constitution since 1946. If your point is that laws can not, nay, need not constantly be tested, I have to wonder about your motivations to argue otherwise.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

End of story.

Or is it the start? How have you concluded it's all over?

19 ( +19 / -0 )

Irrelevant.

Relevant.

Even if the law does allow such stops, laws can be changed. 

This law has stood since 1948.

End of story.

-34 ( +0 / -34 )

If the law allows such stops, then end of story.

Irrelevant. Even if the law does allow such stops, laws can be changed. If you believe all laws are written in stone and cannot be challenged, there are plenty of authoritarian countries around the world that would welcome you. Slave labor is hard to come by.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

That is the point of the article and the lawsuit: Arguably the law does not allow such stops.

Exactly, law only considered those stops and questioning is voluntarily or 任意 。

Once when the man informed a policeman that he held Japanese citizenship, the officer reacted by asking, "If you obtained Japanese citizenship, did you dispense with your residence card? Can you go out without carrying it on your person?"

Japanese doesn't need to carry an ID at all, so once those officers being told he is Japanese at that point everything is voluntarily, he can choose to stop and those officer need to obey that.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2024/01/f8376ed292ef-3-foreign-born-residents-sue-over-racial-profiling-by-japan-police.html

.

Not only that, that plaintiffs lawyer also show there's a specific training material that lead why those officer really targeting foreign people.

-3 ( +9 / -12 )

So they agree with me.

You were speaking of the law allowing stops. /dev/random pointed out that the article is questioning whether the law does allow stops, so your response makes about as much sense as most of Bass' posts.

21 ( +24 / -3 )

That is the point of the article and the lawsuit: Arguably the law does not allow such stops

So they agree with me.

-41 ( +0 / -41 )

If the law allows such stops, then end of story.

That is the point of the article and the lawsuit: Arguably the law does not allow such stops.

27 ( +30 / -3 )

If the law allows such stops, then end of story.

-37 ( +2 / -39 )

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