Written by Jo Church

In The News

Are we ranking our tragedies now?

Why has the murder of 19 people in Japan not received the coverage in the media that so many other mass killings have? Is it, Jo Church asks, because they were disabled?

person using a wheelchair
Last week, 19 disabled people were murdered in a care home in Sagamihara, Japan.

It’s likely this shocking news has passed you by (like it did my mum). I think that’s one of the things that I find most upsetting about it. Most news-agencies have given it little or no attention and when they have, their focus has been on the murderer.

Why do we not know his victims? Where is their roll-call? Where is their video montage like the gazillions for other recent mass killings? Why do we know so much about the killer (information I do not want to impart here)? Why is his image, his evil, grinning, remorseless mug, used so readily in the shockingly few mainstream reports? Would the world’s media have responded differently perhaps if 19 concertgoers or commuters had been killed instead?

For those who haven’t heard what happened, in the early hours of 26 July, a former employee of a home for disabled people brutally butchered 10 women and nine men aged between 18 and 70 and injured 26 more. Thirteen of those injured were reported to be in a ‘serious’ condition but I cannot tell you if any have since died, as follow-up stories are practically non-existent.

The killings occurred in a planned, forewarned, attack. And nobody did anything to stop him.

Five months ago, the murderer wrote and delivered a letter to the Japanese parliament, outlining his intention to do this, including details of when and where – the very same facility he worked in.

He wrote: “I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanised, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.

“I believe there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery. I think now is the time to carry out a revolution and to make the inevitable but tough decision for the sake of all mankind. Let Japan take the first big step.”

He went on to say he could “wipe out a total of 470 disabled individuals” by targeting two facilities for disabled people during the night shift, “when staffing is low. The act will be carried out speedily, and definitely without harming the staff. After wiping out the 260 people in two facilities, I will turn myself in.”

“The only (crushing) conclusion I can make, is that the reason the world has not been screaming their anger and outrage from every rooftop is because this was an attack on disabled people, and there is a global belief that ‘disabled people’s lives do not matter.’”

He lost his job and was forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward when the letter came to the attention of the police, but he was only held for two weeks without charge and then released back home, close to the residential facility he’d threatened, and with no plans to monitor him at all.

The care home installed more security cameras on the advice of police and kept in touch with officers but the director of the care facility said, “If he broke into the building by breaking a window, I believe it was impossible to stop the incident.”

I find it hard to comprehend the lack of any worthwhile media coverage of this horrific hate crime, either as the story unfolded, or in the week since. I’ve heard so many others trying to explain why no one is talking about this, and one of the straws clutched is ‘maybe it’s because it happened in Japan and that’s why it’s not being reported in the West?’

The only (crushing) conclusion I can make, is that the reason the world has not been screaming their anger and outrage from every rooftop, and sobbing their uncontrollable tears of grief in the streets, is because this was an attack on disabled people, and there is a (conscious or unconscious) global belief that ‘disabled people’s lives do not matter’. I mean, did you know between a third and half of the people killed by cops in America have a disability? Exactly.

As the wife of a disabled woman and with our lives intertwined with the international disability rights community, these murders feel very personal and raw. I’ve never written anything public before – unless you count many Facebook statuses which, in the past week, have been dominated by my utter sadness at these senseless murders.

A friend responded to one such status that perhaps the lack of interest in the story is because, “it’s about disabled people, and the majority think it’s nothing to do with them.” But that’s the thing. This is about all of us – impairment doesn’t differentiate between age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, whatever… it could happen to anyone, at any time.

The one thing I can do is to let people know that this has happened and to invite you to join a vigil outside the Japanese Embassy in London on 4 August from 4pm.

The 19 or maybe more disabled people murdered last week deserve our tears and our time. I’ll be at the vigil on Thursday. I hope you’ll join me.


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Written by Jo Church

I wear shorts and flip flops for most of the year. I am a lesbian and a carpenter. I'm also married and owned by three black cats... You could say I was a stereotype.