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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
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National JACL Statement

JACL Supports Women’s Reproductive Freedom

On Monday, May 2nd, 2022, an initial draft of a supreme court opinion authored by Justice Alito that would strike down the Roe vs Wade decision was leaked to the public. It is important to note that the right to choose is currently still protected by law and that this is a draft decision from the court. The decision, however, if made official, would overturn the right to choose, protected by the 14th amendment of the constitution under the Roe vs Wade ruling for over 49 years. Erosion of the 14th amendment could then lead to the loss of constitutionally protected rights of individuals including the rights of people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Justice Alito’s draft opinion states, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” This is language similarly used to describe the Korematsu case in an opinion by Justice Kavanaugh in the 2020 case Ramos vs Louisiana and echos a similar repudiation of the Korematsu decision in the Muslim Travel Ban case decided in 2018. Unfortunately, despite the court’s declaration that the original Korematsu verdict was wrong, it has continued to demonstrate its willingness to declare egregious wrongs and continues to trample on individual rights as it did with the Muslim ban. It is critical, therefore, that the court reassess its problematic past decisions to ensure that future declarations are spared from equally harmful abridgments of personal freedom.

This decision comes after many other state-level attacks on the right to choose such as the Texas law that went into effect in September of last year that placed a cash bounty on the heads of doctors that performed abortions after six weeks, which is often before a person even realizes that they are pregnant. Lawmakers in Missouri considered legislation that would allow individuals to sue anyone who aided a person in crossing state lines for an abortion.

The JACL once again reaffirms its commitment to reproductive freedom and the right to choose whether and when to become a parent. JACL highlights that it was 30 years ago that our National Council officially adopted a resolution, titled Family Choice, at the 1992 convention supporting a person’s right “to choose and determine the course of their lives.” JACL also calls on our elected representatives to pass legislation protecting the right to choose immediately instead of holding out on fundamental rights in order to have more talking points during upcoming election campaigns.

JACL executive director David Inoue states, “The language of this draft decision from the court is especially troubling for the implications it will have on the potential infringement of other individual rights. We cannot be a United States of America if not everyone in our nation holds the same rights. History has demonstrated that we cannot leave fundamental human rights to the jurisdiction of the states.”

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JACL Condems Passage of Anti LGBTQIA + Laws

Earlier this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law for his state. Also this week, in Utah, a bill that would bar transgender youth from participating in girls’ sports was vetoed by the governor, only to be overturned by the state legislature. These bills come following a string of similar anti-LGBTQIA+ laws that have been introduced across the country and in several instances, already becoming law. As staunch supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community, JACL condemns the actions of Governor DeSantis and many others who have sought to attack the LGBTQIA+ community through these legislative efforts.

The LGBTQIA+ community, and especially LGBTQIA+ youth, have long faced discrimination and violence, which has caused higher rates of health risks and suicide. JACL has been an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community for many years, passing our first national resolution in support of same-sex marriage in 1994. We have seen so much change in our society in amazing ways to support the LGBTQIA+ community over the past 30 years. To see these new laws taking the nation a step backward is not only disheartening but also extremely dangerous.

We join the hundreds of other organizations and community groups nationwide standing with the LGBTQIA+ community in Florida and across the country who are fighting these bills. We hope that politicians listen to all their constituents, especially those who are directly impacted by these laws, instead of the disinformation and vitriol supporting such discriminatory legislation. The JACL demands inclusion and acceptance for members of the LGBTQIA+ community in order to help nurture our youth and future generations.

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House Passes Japanese American Confinement Education Act

The JACL applauds the unanimous passage of the Japanese American Confinement Education (JACE) Act in the House of Representatives on March 15, 2022.

In 2006, the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) Program was established for the preservation and interpretation of U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. This original legislation was introduced by then-Representative Bill Thomas, Doris Matsui, and Mike Honda. Since the first year of funding in Fiscal Year 2009, $36 million has been provided to 268 projects in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Funding has ranged from as little as $5,000 to over $800 thousand for a single project.

The JACE act provides an additional $42 million dollars in funding for a total of $80 million. Of that total, $10 million in funding may be used by Japanese American organizations to implement education programs to ensure that present and future generations of Americans will learn from the experience of Japanese American confinement and our country’s subsequent commitment to equal justice under law. This funding will be used for research and education relating to Japanese American incarceration, and the creation and disbursement of educational materials to promote a national understanding of how and why Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII.

JACL is thankful to Representative Doris Matsui for her leadership in authoring and championing the JACE Act. We are also grateful to Chairman Neguse, Ranking Member Fulcher, and the rest of the members of the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands subcommittee for shepherding the JACE act to passage. We would also like to thank the 67 bi-partisan co-sponsors for their support.

We call upon the Senate to swiftly pass the JACE act (S.988) to ensure continued funding to the JACS grant program.

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Calls to Expel Russian Students Fails to Learn from History

On February 27th, Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) went on CNN and suggested that Russian students should be expelled from the country as a potential pressure point against Russia. Swalwell said, “Frankly, I think closing their embassy in the United States, kicking every Russian student out of the United States, those should all be on the table.”

The JACL would like to remind the Congressman that his district encompasses an area from where many Japanese Americans were forcibly removed during WWII, leading to the disruption and end of college careers. The disruption of promising college careers was one of many traumas inflicted upon incarcerated Japanese Americans that would have lifelong implications. Only in the last few years have universities begun to take responsibility for the role they played in discriminating against Japanese American students during the war whether through expulsion.

Recent years have seen similar attacks and calls against Chinese students and scientists. Actions against students, targeted only on the basis of their nationality, is discriminatory. Where there is reasonable suspicion of nefarious activity, law enforcement should of course take action, but national origin should not serve as the basis for making these decisions.

JACL supports the Neighbors Not Enemies Act to repeal the Alien Enemies Act of 1798 that gives the President the power to detain, relocate, or deport immigrants from hostile countries in a time of war. This law has been invoked to justify the mass incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during WWII and could be used to justify Congressman Swalwell’s misguided calls for expulsion of Russian students.

Despite multiple efforts to engage, Representative Swalwell has refused JACL’s request to meet regarding his statement.

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Scholarship Opportunity for high school seniors and college students

Atsuhiko Tateuchi Memorial Scholarship
· $5,000 scholarship, renewable annually.
· This scholarship is offered to the following types of students:
o Graduating High School Seniors planning to attend an accredited vocational school, college, or university (2-year or 4-year degrees).
o Students returning to school or currently enrolled in an accredited college or university seeking support to continue their degree.
o Students entering or enrolled in graduate or professional degree programs (MA, PhD, MD, JD, etc.).
· Preference will be given to students of Japanese ancestry or other Asian ancestry.
· Students must be a resident of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, or Washington State.
· Must demonstrate financial need.
· Application available on Survey Monkey Apply:
o Students pursing undergraduate or graduate degrees: https://seattlefoundation.smapply.org/prog/tateuchi/
· Deadline to apply: March 1, 2022.

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Voting Rights Fails to Pass Senate

The Senate’s inability to pass the Freedom to Vote: John Lewis Act has left JACL and our community greatly disappointed. The voting rights package, which was previously passed in the House this past Thursday, included key legislation that would broaden Americans’ access to voting as well as cut down on the influence of special interest groups and dark money. It would be the largest voting rights initiative to pass through Congress in over a decade.

Despite this setback, the JACL will continue to fight for the voting rights of all Americans, especially those who are most vulnerable. Asian Pacific Americans stand to lose much from regressive voter exclusion laws being passed at the local level that would reduce access to the ballot box. We refuse to be discouraged, and we will continue to advocate and have our voices be heard until change and reforms are passed that will guarantee minimal voting rights for all Americans. Voting rights are human rights.

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Voting Rights Reform Package Passes House

he House of Representatives has now passed a voting rights and election reform package that includes key legislation from both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act. These fundamental reforms affirm statements made previously this week by President Biden and Vice President Harris during a visit to Georgia to discuss voting rights. Key parts of this legislation will protect and ensure fair and open elections, including the use of a wide range of forms of identification for in-person voting, making Election Day a federal holiday, guaranteeing the right to mail-in vote, and requiring reasonable public notice for changes to voting policies. It additionally includes illumination around dark money, makes it harder for billionaires and special interest groups to buy elections, and much more.

The JACL is thankful that President Biden and Vice President Harris are drawing attention to this issue, and we are happy to see congress capitalize on this moment and push forward with this legislation. Voting rights are essential to the preservation of our democracy from the local to the national level. We hope that the Senate will recognize the right to vote as fundamental to our democracy and that they will pass legislation to enable the representation of as many Americans as possible in the electoral process.

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JACL Reflects on Pearl Harbor Day

December 7, 2021

For Immediate Release

Matthew Weisbly, Education & Communications Coordinator, mweisbly@jacl.org

Sarah Baker, VP Public Affairs, sbaker@jacl.org

Today the JACL reflects on the 80th anniversary of the devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japanese forces. The attack resulted in the deaths of over 2,400 Americans stationed in Hawaii. This event is especially painful to the Japanese American community because the attack led to the direct questioning of loyalty and incarceration without trial of over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. Those that were not incarcerated continued to face hate and discrimination from their fellow Americans who saw them as indistinguishable from the faces of the enemy.

We recognize the 33,000 Japanese Americans who served in our nation’s armed services, despite the fact many had family members and they themselves were being imprisoned by their country. Even in their loyal service, they served within segregated units, yet they would become one of the most highly decorated combat units in the war.

It is without a doubt that the attack on American soil and loss of American lives was a dark day for our nation. However, the subsequent racial hysteria and demagoguery that led to the profiling and targeting of people of Japanese ancestry led us into an even darker place. It is only when we remember the wrongs of this past that we can be sure we do not repeat the same wrongs in the present day.

The trauma of this event persists within the Japanese American community, and it is important that we continue to fight against discriminatory practices that unjustly profile and surveil minority communities. Although we are unlikely to see actions on the scale of mass incarceration of nearly 120,000 people, in the past few years we have seen people from majority Muslim nations banned from our country and refugees denied entry disproportionately those with darker skin, all under the guise of national security need. And in the past year, COVID fear has led to the scapegoating and direct acts of hate and violence against Asian Americans. It is important we remember the history of racism as we continue to fight current racial injustices.

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Civil Liberties in the Times of Crisis

JACL and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) are inviting seventy-two educators to explore the historical significance and enduring legacy of the World War II Japanese American incarceration experience and the reparations movement. While past participants are primarily social studies and humanities teachers at the K-12 levels, all are invited to apply.

This NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop will be offered twice: June 19-24 and July 10-15, 2022. Participants will be staying in the historic Little Tokyo neighborhood in Los Angeles with the majority of programming being at our host institution, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), with day trips to Santa Anita Park (a WWII temporary “assembly center”) and Manzanar National Historic Site (one of the ten permanent WWII “internment” camps). This will be one of the last times we are able to host a workshop with living camp survivors as the WWII generation passes the torch to future ones.

Learn more and apply here: https//jacl.org/2022-neh-landmarks

NEHgrant#NEHWhyHere#K12#highered

“A phenomenal sequence of lectures and field trips that offered new perspectives on civil liberties” – 2016 Landmarks Participant