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Blog Statement

Asian American Community Responds to Hate Crime in Portland

As a coalition of Asian American organizations, we are horrified and angered by the racially-motivated violent attack against a California family visiting Portland, Oregon. The family was attacked simply because they were Japanese.  

On Saturday, July 2, Dylan Kesterson, 34, brutally attacked a 36-year-old father and his five-year-old daughter in front of the father’s wife while they were all bicycling on the Eastbank Esplanade around 3:45 pm. Without any provocation, Kesterson, who is 5’11” and 200 pounds, approached the vacationing family and verbally assaulted them using anti-Japanese slurs. Kesterson then pummeled the father over 50 times in the head before punching the five-year-old daughter several times in the head.  Fortunately, both father and daughter were wearing their helmets before right-minded bystanders intervened to chase off Kesterson. 

We are further outraged that Kesterson was released from jail on the very same day he brazenly attacked the family. It is disgusting and incredulous that despite being arrested and charged with violent hate crime (Bias crime in the first degree, a Class C felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment), he was allowed to walk free even without any bail required by a Multnomah County judge. While recently adopted pretrial release guidelines issued by the Oregon Supreme Court may have contributed to Kesterson’s initial release, District Attorney Mike Schmidt subsequently charged Kesterson with additional “assault” crimes after he simply walked out of jail.  These additional assault crimes, which include the intent to cause serious physical injury, stemmed from the original attack, then allowed the court to hold Kesterson in custody without bail once he was re-arrested.

Despite clear evidence from the outset of his racial animus and use of physical violence on complete strangers, nothing prevented Kesterson that day from inflicting further attacks on other Asian community members after he was released. As the father later said of the traumatizing attack: “We felt we may be killed.”  The actions of both Kesterson, who attacked a young family because of their race, and Oregon’s criminal justice system, which allowed the immediate release of a violent hate crime perpetrator, are completely unjust and unacceptable. 

Our hearts go out to the family members directly impacted by this terrible assault.  Because this is yet another horrendous act of anti-Asian hate, we know that members of our community are experiencing anxiety about their personal safety and the safety of loved ones. We need to know that Oregon’s criminal justice system works to protect our communities, too.

Also troubling and disturbing is the recent report that this is not Kesterson’s first racial assault.  According to news reports, Kesterson now faces 19 counts for two separate hate crimes, including a prior attack for which, for some unknown reason, he was not arrested or charged at the time.   In addition to the vicious attack on the young Japanese family riding their bicycles along the Willamette River on July 2nd, he is now accused of racially intimidating, assaulting, and harassing three Asians on April 17th.  

According to news reports, on April 17th, Kesterson attacked an Asian woman coming out of a coffee shop after he had just yelled racial slurs and chased a teenage boy.  After the Asian woman and friends came out of the coffee shop, Kesterson is reported to have slapped a full carrier of coffee out of her hand while later screaming “Are you Filipino?”  Kesterson then grabbed the back of the Asian woman’s head extremely hard, ripping strands of her hair, and threw her on the back of her car where she eventually fell to the ground.  The police never arrested Kesterson despite pleas from the victim.

These unprovoked racial attacks continue a despicable pattern of hostility and horrific hate crimes perpetrated against Asians throughout this country. We demand greater acknowledgement that people of Asian descent are being hurt by hate and racism, and we call on all state and City of Portland elected officials to immediately correct the extreme failure of the system, including adding bias crime in the first degree to the category of non-releaseable offenses under the new pretrial release guidelines, to prevent a violent hate crime attacker being released back into the public while awaiting trial.  Additionally, we demand to know why the Portland Police Bureau failed to arrest Kesterson for the racial attacks involving three Asian people on April 17th.

No progress around social justice can be made if violent perpetrators of hate crimes remain unchecked. Racism and racial prejudice cannot be solved with tools of an oppressive system. The criminal justice system should work to keep all communities safe and encourage public support instead of alienating those who are marginalized or merely given lip service. Hate crimes are traumatizing not only to the victims but to the entire related community members as well.

In Solidarity,

Portland JACL

Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon

Chinese American Citizens Alliance

Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans, San Francisco

Epworth United Methodist Church

Gresham-Troutdale JACL

Hiroshima Club

Henjyoji Shingon Temple

Japanese Ancestral Society of Portland

Japan-America Society of Oregon

Japanese American Business Association (Shokookai)

Japanese American Museum of Oregon

Minoru Yasui Legacy Project

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

Nichiren Buddhist Temple

Oregon Nisei Veterans

Portland Taiko

Unit Souzou

Veleda Club

Community leaders held a press conference addressing the recent bias crime against Dr. Abe and his daughter. Dr. Abe’s lawyer, Bonnie Richardson, read a statement on his behalf