Steve Daunt reflects on the recent killing of 19 disabled people in Japan and is shocked by aspects of its aftermath
What is one of the first reactions we have when we hear about a major tragedy? We thank God that we were not there. The second? We check were there any Irish people involved. If there were, do we know them? Are they friends of friends? Even if we don’t know anybody involved, we look for background stories. Were they married? Have kids? Were they award-winning astro-physicists on the verge of recreating the Big Bang?
They demand and receive our empathy.
When we think of Hillsborough and the fight for justice for the victims, knowing who they were was crucial. Over the 27 years of their campaign, putting a face to a name was crucial. Closer to home, we all have heard the families of those involved in the Stardust fire or Monaghan bombings tell their stories.
Their stories engaged us.
One week in July saw the world reeling from 2 tragedies - Bastille Day in Nice saw over 80 lives ended. We heard stories. We had that ‘what if...’ moment and we felt the pain.
A few days later on the other side of the world, a killer entered a care centre and killed 19 disabled people as they were sleeping.
The killer had previously worked there.
The killer had written that disabled people should be exterminated.
The killer had a history of mental illness in the months leading up to the attack.
The killer had a story.
The killer had a name - Satoshi Uematsu.
What do we know about his victims? As they were murdered, we would expect the police to release all of their names. Then we would get to hear their stories.
We have not.
The Japanese police in the area where the attack took place made the decision NOT to release any of the names. They said they wanted to protect the privacy of the bereaved families.
In other words, they wanted to keep up a charade that some families seem to want. They wanted to deny they had a disabled relative.
It actually filled me with horror. Denying a family member had a disability. Yes, it happened here many, many years ago but we now know disabled people live rich, varied lives.
Some of the families of those involved have realised this and have begun telling their stories independently. They wanted to break through the so-called shame of having a disabled relative. Their love began to shine through.
Why is this important? Once the Paralympics in Rio end, the clock will begin ticking to the next Games in... Tokyo.
Yes, they may have nice shiny laws and they may have signed the UN Convention but if disabled people are being hidden away and ‘warehoused’ in massive care facilities, how will hosting the Paralympics change attitudes?
A successful 2020 Paralympic Games may well prove the best memorial to the nineteen victims.
Even if we don’t know their stories, please remember them.