Okinawa Protests Against U.S. Military Presence After 20-Year-Old Woman Raped And Murdered, Tens Of Thousands Say ‘Get Out’

Okinawa protests have attracted tens of thousands of Japanese whose rallying cry is against the U.S. military presence on the island. In April, a contract worker and former Marine Corps member allegedly raped and murdered a 20-year-old local woman.

The suspect in the case is 32-year-old Kenneth Franklin Gadson (also known by his wife’s family name of Shinzato), who was employed by the Kadena Air Base. He was arrested on suspicion of dumping 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro’s body after raping, strangling, and stabbing her. He later led the police to her body.

The woman was an office worker from the city of Uruma. Reportedly, she was missing after going for a walk on April 28. Investigators have determined that she did not know Gadson but was assaulted by him after he drove around for hours searching for a potential victim.

According to the Japan Times, Gadson confessed to forcing the woman into his car after hitting her with a club. This is not the first time that members of the U.S. military or affiliated workers have been accused or convicted of violent crimes against the Japanese people, and the protests in Okinawa and other areas of Japan won’t disappear.

On Sunday afternoon, countless individuals voiced their frustration at one of the largest anti-U.S. base protests in Japan, per USA Today. There are now over 25,000 U.S. troops — mostly Marines — on the island. They work and live on bases that cover approximately 20 percent of Okinawa and are crucial to the U.S.-Japan security alliance. U.S. presence in Japan dates back to World War II. Okinawa was a battle site between Japan and the U.S., and the incident precipitated a 27-year-long U.S. occupation.

Other crimes have shocked the country and led to tense relations between the U.S. and Japan which have weakened the alliance. In 1995, the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen led thousands to protest on Okinawa. The horrific incident led Washington to agree to reduce the number of military members on the island, per Al Jazeera.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga has long been a strong opponent of the U.S. military on the island. He expressed remorse and anger over Shimabukuro’s murder and pledged to work toward the removal of the U.S. forces and a revision of the prior agreement. He made a statement in the midst of the protests, added USA Today.

“I hereby express my unflagging resolve to push for drastic review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and withdrawal of Marines (from Okinawa).”

There are plans in the works to move a Marine air base from Futenma, Okinawa to Henoko, a less densely populated part of the island. In light of the Gadson allegations, Onaga is pushing for the base to be moved completely off the island of Okinawa.

The U.S. military commander on Okinawa, Marine Lt. General Lawrence Nicholson, said he feels “great pain and anger” over the woman’s murder. He is hoping that it doesn’t further divide communities on the island, USA Today also noted.

“The message is this: Do not allow this incident to divide and drive a wedge between American and Okinawan communities here.”

After Gadson’s arrest in May, Nicholson declared a month-long period of “unity and mourning” for all service personnel on Okinawa. This included earlier curfews and a ban on off-base alcohol consumption.

At the beginning of June, the Navy initiated a ban on alcohol throughout Japan because a sailor on Okinawa was arrested due to driving under the influence. She crashed into two cars and injured two people. Later she was tested, and it was determined that she had an alcohol level six times the country’s legal limit.

Okinawa protests are likely to continue until military bases are no longer present. The people of Japan say they have had enough and have long complained about noise, violence, and congestion, all due to U.S. presence.

[Image by Shizuo Kambayashi/AP]