Jul 3, 2008

Take That, Terrorism!

Kori and I got stopped by the cops this weekend.

The cop was actually pretty nice about it, and obviously didn't like what he was doing. But nevertheless, outside a train station, we had our information taken down and collected by Japanese law enforcement. I found this a little funny, since all of my information is already registered with the Japanese government anyway. If they want my address and phone number, they just have to go to immigration and look them up.

The cop explained to us that the police were stopping all foreigners and getting their information because of the G8 summit in Hokkaido. It was an anti-terrorism measure. Now, I can understand why the Japanese government would want to do something, security wise, to prepare for the summit. I'm also utterly unsurprised that it's something pretty illiberal and ludicrous. (Another brilliant idea: removing garbage cans from train platforms because, you know, you could put bombs in one of those things.)

I also can't help but imagine how such a policy would be received in the U.S. Actually, I don't have to imagine it. Racial profiling doesn't really have any defenders in the U.S., and if a directive was issued to the cops that they should question anyone who either looked foreign or was speaking a foreign language, there would be a complete political uproar: Obama and McCain would be falling over each to denounce it. Politicians would evoke MLK left and right. Al Sharpton would get so angry, he would actually explode. The political policy that caused me to get stopped this weekend in Japan would find no quarter even in the right-to-center politics of the U.S.

It was a cold little reminder that Japan still has a bit of insular nationalism going on. And oh, how I can't stand either insularity or nationalism. But, that's another rant. On the other hand, governments and countries do some phenomenally stupid shit in response to terrorism. The color-coded terror alert system? Probably useless. And remember when tons of people in the U.S. were buying duct tape? Useless. As useless as taking down foreigners' info, and the U.S. is no stranger to racist assholery, either.

Sigh... At least the cop was a nice guy.

7 comments:

Joseph said...

Well, of course duct tape's useless if you don't have the saran wrap to go along with it!

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

My dear, you sound like you grew up in a very liberal place. Sure, cops in the states don't say, "I'm sorry, I have to stop you because you're foreign. I really don't want any hard feelings it's just my job...."

but I think "differently colored people" get stopped quite often.

you say:
"I also can't help but imagine how such a policy would be received in the U.S. Actually, I don't have to imagine it. Racial profiling doesn't really have any defenders in the U.S"

the small town I grew up in would have something different to say about that...

Do you remember when the U of O invited a bunch of highly academic high school "students of color" to promote the UO to them and campus police hassled them. because (from everything I heard) they were "of color"

Even with the housing discrimination in Japan, I think the US may be worse.

Anyways, I found it funny that the cop tried so hard to find common ground and make small talk with us.

SonicLlama said...

I don't remember the "students of color" incident, no. What exactly happened?

What I mean when I say that racial profiling doesn't have any really have any defenders," I don't mean that it has zero defenders. Of course it does, and of course they are very vocal about their opinion. They are a minority, and do not exist in significant enough numbers to influence policy.

Think about it: How many cities or states have you heard of with a declared, official policy of racial profiling? I haven't heard of a single one. While the cops and others may still engage in it, politicians and policy makers still have to (at least) pay lip service to equality and such.

If a city or state government had as declared, official policy that they were going to stop all black people or all people speaking Spanish, there would be quite an uproar. We'd hear about it on the news, speeches would be given, and the policy would probably be challenged and declared unconstitutional in some for or fashion.

I do think there is racism in the U.S. There's a lot of it, in fact. But there's also an very deep and ingrained countervailing idea that people are fundamentally equal and that racism is bad. And that idea is strong enough to influence policy and law. That really does keep me optimistic in the face of the shit that comes out of our home country. As much as I criticize it, I never want to be cynical about the U.S. I know it's capable of immense good, and I do think that good is stronger than the BS.

I wasn't mad at the cop at all, or even angry at all. The incident was just a reminder of the inside/outside mentality that Japan has. Japan can do, and deserves better than, that sort of insular nationalism. We're in one of the most modern places on earth. Such a place as Japan deserves policy as modern as its technology.

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

the was a measure in California about 10 years ago (when I lived there) that prevented all illegal immigrants from entering public schools, hospitals, or any social services. It passed. It was voted in.

nah... those wetbacks are better on the street than in a middle school classroom. Let the tuberculosis spread... it's only between the dirty people after all. Sure there are life long diseases that can be prevented with neonatal care but who cares if you don't speak English.

sure, you could claim that isn't racist, but I would disagree.

It was overturned in the California Supreme court. Four other states attempted similar measures.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposition_187

SonicLlama said...

I remember Prop 187, and I remember all of the attendant outrage that came with it. Like I said:

"If a city or state government had as declared, official policy that they were going to stop all black people or all people speaking Spanish, there would be quite an uproar. We'd hear about it on the news, speeches would be given, and the policy would probably be challenged and declared unconstitutional in some for or fashion."

And that's precisely what happened. There was outrage, there was controversy, and it was found to be unconstitutional.

Prop 187 was indeed racist and unfair, and I'm not claiming at all that the U.S. doesn't have racism in it. But, I think that ultimate defeat of 187 proves what I'm saying- that even though there is racism in America, the prevailing political atmosphere is mostly inhospitable to intolerance. That "mostly" is important. I don't think that the U.S. is a completely liberal place, but I do think that us liberals do have far more power than we give ourselves credit for.

Beau said...

As a rule I wouldn't usually break into a conversation of this nature between you two, but it is a topic near and dear to my heart.

In general, I want to agree with Sonicllama here. His position is in direct line with the Constitution that I am sworn to uphold (feels strange saying that). And I think most of the time, Sonicllama is right.

The problem becomes when you dig deeper. Clearly no government in the US could sustain a policy of racial profiling for long without coming under judicial scrutiny. But the simple fact of the matter is it isn't that difficult to come up with some legitimate reason to stop a vehicle or a person if you want to. And as long as you have a sufficient basis even if there is an impermissible discriminatory basis underneath, the stop is likely to pass muster. If there were some invidious discrimination at work resulting in a de-facto profiling, it would be very very difficult to bring it to light, or to gather enough evidence to challenge it.

So, although I believe the Judicial Branch generally checks the willingness of the public to engage in that type of discrimination, (and I agree with Kori, too many people in this country are more then happy to) it isn't perfect and it isn't always fast. (See Gitmo...)

That said, I am a bit surprised that a modern, developed nation would employ that kind openly discriminatory policy.

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

ha ha ha. by all means get involved! we can bicker (er... discuss) between ourselves all the time, it's much more.... exciting .... when people start taking sides.

seriously.

I know my point of view may be skewed because I grew up mostly in a tiny Northern California town (that geopolitically would be better described as Western Nevada or Southern hicksville Oregon) When I moved to Astoria Oregon at 16 I thought it was a teeming multi cultural metropolis....

So, the majority of my life 22 some years has either been in hicksville (Idaho, N. California, Astoria) or Japan. Yes, I lived in Eugene some 6 ish years but that always feels more like the exception than the rule when I think about politics.

I certainly hope I'm wrong and you privileged liberal white men are right.

(that's meant with a sense of humor, of course.)