Are American military forces no longer welcome on the Japanese island, Okinawa? That’s what about 65,000 protesters are suggesting, according to USA Today. After an American contractor was arrested for raping and murdering a 20-year-old local woman, thousands of Okinawa residents, dressed in black, gathered in the streets to request the removal of American military forces from their island.
Okinawa Victim Raped, Strangled, And Stabbed
The Okinawan woman, Rina Shimabukuro, was reported missing for several weeks before her body was finally found in early May. Following his arrest on May 19, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a former US Marine and civilian contractor for the United States Air Force’s Kadena air base, supposedly admitted to raping and killing Shimabukuro, the Guardian reports.
A May issue of the Japan Times states Shinzato says he forced Shimabukuro into his car and raped her before strangling and stabbing her and placing her body in a suitcase. He was brought in for questioning when his car was identified on security footage — close to the area signaled by the young woman’s smartphone GPS data. Investigators were able to use information he provided to locate her body.
At this time, Shinzato’s arrest includes charges for suspicion of abandoning Shimabukuro’s body — he has not been charged with her murder.
US Ties In Okinawa
For years, the island dubbed “The Rock” has hosted almost 50,000 United States troops and their dependents, and may be the future home of a controversial Marine Corps base. But protesters at today’s rally called for a review of the security agreement between the United States and Japan.
In response to the protest, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga apologized to thousands camped out at the island’s capital, Naha, for not protecting the woman after a similar incident in 1995. At that time, three American servicemen raped and killed a schoolgirl.
“We had pledged never to repeat such an incident. I could do nothing to change the political system to prevent that. That is my utmost regret as a politician and as governor of Okinawa. The government … must understand that Okinawa residents should not suffer any more from the burden of the bases.”
The 1995 Rape By American Servicemen
In a report released by the Los Angeles Times, the three men, Private First Class (Pfc.) Rodrico Harp, Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet and Navy Seaman Marcus D. Gill, had a premeditated plan to commit the rape. Harp’s attorney, Mitsunobu Matsunaga, told the story of how the men initially decided to pay for sex but altered their plans when one of the corpsmen, who had no money, stated paid sex was “no fun” and suggested rape instead.
Allegedly, Harp and Ledet did not take Gill seriously until he showed them he was prepared with duct tape and condoms. At about 8 that night, they discovered their victim — a Japanese girl wearing a school uniform and carrying a bag of books. Matsunaga reports that is when they stopped the car, and Ledet pulled the girl inside and put her in the back seat.
Harp taped the girl’s mouth and eyes shut before hitting her once. Gill bound her hands and legs. The three then drove to a secluded field, where Gill “violently” beat the child before raping her in the back seat. Ledet and Harp also went into the back seat, but supposedly did not rape the girl when they saw how young she was. Afterwards, the American servicemen threw her out of the vehicle and abandoned her. Two days later, all were arrested by U.S. military police. The girl was later determined to be 12-years-old.
Similar charges arose in 2008, but were dropped when the victim asked to be left alone. Standing behind the belief that the US presence can do the area more good than harm, US officials have tried to ease relations between both communities. Further, the US military asserts that the crime rate among its people is lower than that of Okinawa citizens.
What are your thoughts? Should America leave the community?
[Photo by Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Images]