From The Mainichi & Barrier Free Japan
May 6 2023
TOKYO – Supporters of a man with an intellectual disability, who died after being seized by police officers on the street, produced a documentary film on him and released it on YouTube, calling for the prevention of a recurrence and understanding of people with disabilities.
While riding a bicycle from his workplace to home in September 2007, Kenta Yasunaga from the southwest Japan city of Saga, was asked to stop by an officer in a police car and crashed into a motorcycle causing him to fall over. Yasunaga, 25 at the time, lost consciousness after being seized by five officers and died a sudden death. Neither the criminal court nor the civil court ultimately found the police responsible.
In 2017, after the trials were concluded, lawyers and welfare officials established the Association to Learn from the Case of Kenta Yasunaga and Realize a Symbiotic Society in response to calls from family members of people with disabilities and others. Some of the comments expressed included, “Being touched or held down without comprehension of the situation can cause them (those with disabilities) to go into panic,” and, “My child could have been in his (Yasunaga’s) place.”
To prevent people from forgetting Yasunaga’s death, supporters and others created the 30-minute documentary film — directed by movie director Tomoki Imai — with a title that roughly translates to “On the usual way home: Questions Kenta Yasunaga’s death raises.”
The film features Yasunaga’s father Takayuki and younger brother Kota sharing their thoughts, as well as discussing about the incident and the trial process with lawyers. In the film Takayuki says in a hushed voice, “During the trials, it felt like I was told you shouldn’t let people with disabilities go outside, and that Kenta was killed by his parents who didn’t accompany him (on his way home).” He added, “The last hope for parents with a disabled child are the police. Being ignorant and not understanding (of people with disabilities) won’t cut it (as a police officer).”
The civil court ruled that Yasunaga was in a delirious state of mind when he did not respond to the officer’s request to stop, and concluded that police seizing him was legal.
As a lesson learned from the incident, the association has called for the Police Duties Execution Act, stipulating custody of people who could injure themselves or others due to being mentally deranged or intoxicated, to be revised to remove the phrase “mentally deranged,” and to require duty of care for police officers to respond according to the characteristics of people with disabilities. This is also mentioned in the film.
In September 2022, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarded phrases such as “mental derangement” and “insanity” in Japanese laws as derogatory and advised for the abolition of such derogatory terms.
Tamano Tsujikawa, lawyer and secretary general of the association, said, “Yasunaga wouldn’t have died if even one police officer on the scene had been aware of his disability. Although things like this shouldn’t happen, there are many cases where victims are left with trauma even if they don’t die. We would like to use Yasunaga’s death as a lesson for the future.”
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