The rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman on the island of Okinawa, allegedly at the hands of a civilian worker for the U.S. military, has stoked deep tensions in Japan. On Sunday, those tensions boiled over as tens of thousands of demonstrators demanded an end to the U.S. military presence on the small Japanese island at a rally in the prefecture’s capital, Naha. Many were dressed in black to mourn the death of the young woman. The suspect in the case, 32-year-old civilian contractor Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, is a former Marine. He’s been detained, but has yet to be formally charged.
Controversy around the U.S. military presence on Okinawa goes back more than 20 years. In 1995, three American servicemen kidnapped and brutally raped a 12-year-old girl, resulting in a major public uproar.
This latest episode of violence has reignited the outrage many Japanese citizens feel about the presence of U.S. armed forces on their soil. Late last month, during his official visit, President Obama apologized to the Japanese people for the incident. “We want to see a crime like this prosecuted here in the same way that we would feel horrified and want to provide a sense of justice to a victim’s family back in the U.S.,” Obama said. But his apology has done nothing to tamp down the public’s fury, as evidence by the mass protest. Indeed, the father of the victim called for the U.S. to completely remove its military presence on the island in an emotional letter that was read aloud at the rally. “Why my daughter? Why was my daughter killed?” he asked in the letter. “To avoid [another] victim, I want all U.S. bases removed … I believe it’s possible if all the people of Okinawa come together.” Organizers estimated 60,000 turned out for the protest. The governor of Okinawa also spoke and, invoking the brutal 1995 crime, apologized to constituents for not changing the policy toward the U.S. military over the past two decades.