Three Men Of Color Living In Japan Sue Government Over Racial Profiling

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Three foreign-born men now living in Japan have filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government over racial profiling. Each of the men claims to have been targeted by police because of his race, ethnicity or national origin. The lawsuit highlights issues of racism and racial identity in the country that appear to grow as Japan becomes less racially homogenous.

lawsuit filed by three men residing in Japan argues that each of them was subjected to racial profiling when they were stopped on multiple occasions for police identity checks. The suit filed against the Japanese government, as well as the governments of Aichi prefecture and the city of Tokyo, seeks to declare racial profiling to be illegal in Japan; the suit also requests about $22,000 in compensation for each of the three men. Matthew, who immigrated to Japan from India in 2002, claims to have been stopped by police “at least 70 times, possibly nearly 100 times” in the years he’s lived in the country.

The other two plaintiffs, a Pakistani-born Japanese citizen named Syed Zain and a Black American named Maurice who permanently resides in Japan, also point toward harassment by authorities; two of the three plaintiffs declined to give their last names publicly for fear of harassment, though the American later publicly identified himself as Maurice Shelton while highlighting the backlash he has received. During a news conference about their lawsuit, Zain complained about being stopped by police “not once but more than 10 times” and said, “I think that people in Japan have the image that foreigners who look like foreigners commit crimes.” Maurice, meanwhile, said he hoped the lawsuit would bring attention to racial profiling by the police and help the people of Japan “understand that this is an everyday occurrence, it’s an everyday thing, and that we have to do something to prevent that.”

Japan, an island nation with thousands of years of history, has traditionally been a very homogenous society. But the population is growing increasingly diverse and has, at times, struggled with how to deal with citizens of mixed or foreign heritage. In 2019, an advertisement featuring Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka received criticism for white-washing the star athlete. The ad featured an unrecognizable anime depiction of Osaka, who has both Japanese and Haitian heritage, as a light-skinned, brown-haired woman with white facial features. And just this year, public outrage developed when the title of Miss Japan was won by a woman of Ukrainian heritage; the pageant winner later resigned as a result of a sex scandal.

The country is also known for having a strict legal system, holding suspects before trial and even forcing confessions. As more people now reside on the island who are visibly identifiable as minorities, critics, including the three plaintiffs, argue that Japan’s harsh police system targets minority residents despite the country’s constitution banning racial discrimination. Some defenders of the current police system, however, have dismissed claims of racial bias and argued that strict policies keep the nation safe.

With this attitude in place, the three plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit may have an uphill battle in winning their case against the authorities. And even if they succeed in winning compensation, they have an even more brutal fight on their hands concerning their larger goal of highlighting and dismantling a system that racially targets those who look different than the people around them.

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