exactly that

A green highway sign for interstate 25 pointing to exit 79, to Truth or Consequenses.A group of teenagers from Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, thought that a fun prank would be to pull a length of rope across a road, for whatever reason that some (not all) teenagers decide that things sound like good ideas. A Japanese woman on a motorcycle was “clotheslined” in the taut rope, and flung from her bike, cracked her skull and at one point fell into a coma. The teenagers stopped an oncoming car to call for help, provided the police with false names, and fled the scene.

The oldest teen is being tried as an adult in Japanese court. Part of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that allows U.S. Forces to bring their families to overseas stations with them allows host-nation authorities to exercise jurisdiction over crimes that happen in their country when appropriate. Curiously enough, the charges against the other three teens have all been dropped, and only the one teenager remains to take the blame for all of this.

The teenager has paid a “gomennasai,” which included a monetary payment, to the woman, and told her that he is really very sorry that his thoughtlessness caused her to crack her head open on the pavement. I am sure it came out of his own pocket. Though under Japanese law he was a minor, at 18, when he committed the crime, the Japanese family court passed the case to the criminal court. Given the nature of the crime, I fully support this decision, but I honestly think that in some capacity the other three teens should be standing with this teen, because the violence that they enacted upon this woman is inexcusable. She was in the hospital for 17 days and unable to work for two months. 200,000 Japanese yen (the equivalent of $2,200) doesn’t cover that.

Why does this one teenager stand alone? When I write and act in defense for teenagers to have for themselves the right to make decisions as autonomous people, that entails the responsibility to see through the consequences of those choices. It is a part of growing up. We have to learn from our mistakes because they shape us into the people we become. While I don’t think that a prison system is how you do that, I think that a punishment for a prank that resulted in the severe injury of a Japanese national woman is warranted.

Even when they make heinous mistakes.

I don’t really believe that they should throw the book at these teens and forget about them forever, but what they did was cruel. Each of them acted, and each of them should be punished accordingly.

Especially when this is a systemic problem.

There is a problem, ongoing, of violence enacted by servicemembers stationed overseas and even by their dependents towards the nationals of host countries, especially in Asia, and most notably recently in Japan. A part of me believes that part of what led these teens to believe they could just flee the scene was a disregard for a Japanese woman’s life. I don’t believe these things happen in a vacuum, and I have spent enough time living on and around a military base in Asia, that I have seen the way people interact with nationals.

The lone teen’s defense lawyer believes that his case should never have been handed up from family court. Because the teen never intended to hurt anyone, you see, this should have stayed in family court. Obviously, this is just a childish prank. The boy claims that they never meant to hurt anyone, that they thought that motorists would only turn around when they saw the rope. That the woman was injured so terribly must have been her own stupid fault for not being telepathic. Gosh, she’s lucky to be alive.

The prosecutors seem to have it right. They said in court that “they were focused on holding the teen accountable for his actions, not his intentions,” because at least someone remembers that intent is not always the most important thing.

That is a lesson worth remembering.

Photo Credit: einalem


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