Armed vigilante gangs patrolling for looters in Japan’s lawless disaster zones have been coming under scrutiny after reports surfaced of one group brutalising an unresisting looter they cornered, in a scene which would be more associated with post-apocalyptic fiction than Japan’s supposedly orderly response to the devastating quake.
A member of an NPO conducting relief operations in the area accompanied a vigilante corps on their patrols of a ruined Iwate prefecture port town, and reported frontier justice is in effect:
“This port town suffered devastating damage from the tsunami, and the law and order situation has been deteriorating.
A surviving group of firemen formed a vigilante corps to patrol a district, mostly comprised of ruined houses.
The trouble started on the second day of patrols.”
The vigilante group were patrolling ruined houses at 1AM when they spotted a suspicious vehicle. After checking inside, they found a man in his forties rummaging through a room.
When he noticed the group, he immediately tried to flee.
“You’re a looter then!?”
The 5 vigilantes soon cornered him. He started swinging a crowbar around.
However, the 5 had armed themselves with iron pipes for defence. After a scuffle, the man was subdued.
The problem was what came after…
“The 5 men started beating and kicking the man. He had already stopped resisting.
I told them ‘It’ll be dangerous if you don’t stop’ but the vigilante leader just said ‘With a guy like this, with things as they are even if we leave him as a corpse nobody would know, would they?’
Things got a bit heated there…”
After this the NPO staffer persuaded them to hand him over to police, who were summoned afterwards. As the man came at them with the crowbar first, the vigilantes were held to be blameless.
Japan has been praised for an orderly response to the crisis and a general absence of the style of Mad Max anarchy observed under in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but with large areas devoid of power, police or people, opportunists have been attracted all the same, and police in the region report making a number of arrests for looting and even rape.