JACL is deeply saddened by the shooting that took place at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of the only LGBTQIA+ nightclubs in the city, late Saturday night. This shooting is one of over 600 that have taken place this year alone and also occurred on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance. This shooting and others that have taken place this year, including some of the deadliest in our nation’s history, remind us now more than ever that steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of all communities from hatred, bigotry, and gun violence.
Transgender people of color experience some of the highest levels of discrimination in this country. According to a 2021 study conducted by Lavender Phoenix, a community-based research project highlighting the experiences of Transgender and Gender Non-conforming APIs in the Bay Area, 68% of transgender and nonconforming APIs reported experiencing verbal harassment, 40% reported experiencing bathroom-based harassment, and 17% reported being physically attacked.
This harassment is fueled in large part by the vitriol and disinformation about the LGBTQIA+ community as put forth by too many of today’s political and public leaders. These supposed leaders who spew vitriol against the LGBTQIA+ community must be held accountable for their part in dehumanizing, silencing, and encouraging hate toward the trans and queer community. Their actions have and continue to influence hate and hate based crime at the expense of those most marginalized. Hate speech that results in direct violent action is not part of our first amendment rights. There must be consequences and accountability.
The JACL vehemently denounces violence based on hate and extremism and remains committed to working with its LGBTQIA+ partners in developing and prescribing community-based solutions that are considerate of the different needs and backgrounds of its community members. The JACL recognizes the direct correlation between the hateful and false words of politicians and pundits that lead to targeted attacks and pledges itself to do more to condemn such acts of violence and bigotry and advocate for more legislation that protects LGBTQIA+ individuals and families.
For Immediate Release Seia Watanabe, VP Public Affairs Matthew Weisbly, Education & Communications Coordinator
On October 31st, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two current affirmative action cases: Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and SFFA v. Harvard University. JACL has joined 36 other AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) civil rights organizations and advocates in signing onto Asian American Advancing Justice (AAJC)’s amicus brief in support of race-conscious admissions. The amicus brief details the harms and addresses misconceptions of race-neutral admission practices. As we get closer to a decision by the courts in these cases, we must stay committed to preventing any potential action that can impede our ability to express our identities and lived experiences.
SFFA’s representation of the Asian American community as victims of Affirmative Action is a subtle example of how Asian Americans historically have been and continue to be leveraged toward dividing communities of color. As noted in the amicus brief, there is no evidence of the exclusion of Asian Americans by race-conscious admissions in higher education. Furthermore, Harvard, and UNC, among many other institutions that have implemented a race-conscious admissions system have only granted more opportunities for AANHPI identifying students to pursue higher education. It is our responsibility, as a community, to challenge these false notions perpetuated by the SFFA and the Project on Fair Representation, and unify our voice in cohesion with the 69% of Asian American voters that support Affirmative Action, and the millions that benefit from it nationwide.
During my time on Portland JACL’s board I have always thought a lot about the question, “what can I do?” I originally joined our board so I could give back to the community. I’d like to say it was a well thought out and deliberate effort, but honestly it was on a bit of a whim. Growing up in Portland, there were tons of events in the Japanese American community that I attended and enjoyed. Events like Day of Remembrance, Obon, the community picnic, Mochitsuki, bazaars at Epworth, and I’m sure many more. As a multiracial Asian American, having events like these gave me a sense of worth and belonging. I could walk around white Portland and every once in a while, take a break to let my guard down, be at ease, and just exist. So for me, joining our board was a first answer to the question, “what can I do?”
Although I knew about JACL’s mission and advocacy, the importance didn’t truly hit until I saw all of the work that our board does. There were lots of people answering this question in their own way and working together to do it. I think what amazed me the most was that more than just our board, there is a whole network of people, organizations and committees all answering this question. Just within JACL, there is our national organization, plus the regional districts and chapters throughout the country that are doing things for their members. Locally, our board has many ties within the Japanese and Japanese American communities as well as with other communities and organizations. It seems like we’ve needed them more than ever these past few years.
Lately, one way Portland JACL has been active is working in response to the July 2nd attack on Dr. Abe and his family at the Eastbank Esplanade. Originally the emphasis was just to get coverage of this event before shifting to prevent or better handle this type of violence in the future. Thanks to a small group that includes John Kodachi, Chisao Hata, Peggy Nagae, Erica Naito Campbell, Duncan Hwang, and our own Jeff Matsumoto and Amanda Shannahan, we have continued to act and object to hate. We have come together and responded.
On August 12th, Portland JACL in solidarity with 15 other Asian American organizations, submitted a letter to the Oregon Chief Justice’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee urging them to begin discussions on the inclusion of bias crimes in the hold until arraignment category. This has resulted in a new recommendation that Bias Crime in the first degree will be moved into the “hold until arraignment” category and there will be further discussion by the committee on moving bias crime in the second degree to that category as well.
While this may not be large sweeping reform of our country’s justice system, it is a small step in the right direction. As I’ve learned during my time on our board, these small steps are what civil rights and social justice work looks like. As we continue to see an increase in hate crimes and bias incidents in Oregon and Nationwide, I’ll admit that it is easy to feel helpless and lose hope. However, I want to remind you that there are lots of people that continue to answer the question with advocacy for Asian Americans and our communities. We deserve to feel safe.
In addition to the fun things that Portland JACL does, like award scholarships, show film screenings, hold community events like the picnic, there is other work that makes a difference too. Recently that has included helping with the Oregon Nisei Veterans World War II Memorial Highway, supporting Minidoka to preserve the site from a wind farm project, working with Metro and the Expo center to provide input on developing what was once referred to as the Portland Assembly Center. We’ve responded to racist license plates and held a few clean ups too. Not everything we do makes it into the newsletter or gets much coverage, but is equally important and helps our board answer the question, “what can we do?”
Let’s continue to take up space and support community events and organizations. Attending the Tiger Tiger event in July was a great reminder for me of how important it is to get out, connect, and find places to be yourself. Looking ahead to the fall, there will be opportunities to engage and be active related to the mid-term and local elections. Particularly a ballot measure that would make changes to Portland’s form of city government. This could have a big impact on how our city is run. Of course, our newsletter and social are great ways to find events that are happening. I’ll simply close by asking you to join me in taking a moment to reflect and think about “what can I do?”
Resources/Links: If you’re the victim of a hate or bias crime please report it to the Oregon DOJ’s Bias Hotline by calling 1-844-924-2427. It is important to record incidents so that it can be counted and justify more resources.
Contribute to the GoFundMe and support Dr. Abe’s family.
By the time you read this article you may not remember that a terrible act of hate was perpetrated against a young Japanese family visiting Portland. Either because you did not hear about it as it was nearly a week before there was any substantive information in the major media outlets or the from the numbness from being inundated by the tumultuous onslaught of violent events that seem to happen daily.
On Saturday, July 2, 2022, a man, Dylan Kesterson, started verbally attacking by yelling racial slurs and then punching in the head (50 times by the victim’s account) a father, Dr. Riyuichi Abe and also hitting in the head his 5-year-old daughter as they were on a tandem bike ride on the East bank Esplanade. Luckily, because they were wearing bicycle helmets neither was severely injured and good people were able to intervene and get help. The man was arrested at the scene but was released later that same day. He did not appear for his court date three days later but was found that day rearrested and jailed and is currently charged with 19 counts of bias crime as it was found that he also committed as hate crime in April 2022.
As horrified and angry as I am that such a racial motivated hate crime happened in my town, I know it is not an isolated incident and that it happens here regularly, and most incidents go unreported and/or unacted on. But this crime is the act that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Not only was this family viciously assaulted, but the criminal justice system failed in that it allowed this man to walk free without consequence that same day. And it has been learned that this same man attacked others for racial reason a few months earlier and was not arrested. It would appear that racism is not just relegated to deranged individuals but is also present in our justice system where the system underplays bias/ hate crimes.
I am grateful and proud of our community members, Chisao Hata, Mike Irinaga, Rich and Yoko Iwasaki, John Kodachi, Weston Koyama, Joni Kimoto, Jeff Matsumoto, Anne and Erica Naito-Campbell, and Amanda Shanahan who immediately spearheaded actions that have brought attention to and hopefully a way to stop racial hate and violence in our city. This is not over at the time of this writing our leadership is waiting to meet with the district attorney’s office, police bureau and court officials and there is the pending trial of Dylan Kesterson.
And beyond the scope of social justice, we need to extend empathy to the Abe family. As Portlanders it is incumbent on us to help the family heal the emotional and psychological scars they have incurred. Their words haunt me; “I want to get out of the city as soon as possible, I want to leave the United States. I never want to see this city again.” Let us find a way to help them.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the family get the support services they need.
Our community is strong, with deep roots in Japan and America. We have contributed positively to the present and future of this country, despite difficult circumstances. And last month, it was disappointing to hear that racist violence not only continues nationwide, but impacted a Japanese family as they were enjoying the Eastbank Esplanade. This is our community, these are our neighborhoods, these are the streets we walk.
Our minds and bodies remember the pain of the past, and hearing about this unsettling event in the present can trigger a kind of emotional flinching reaction in which we are flooded with memories of similar events we have experienced. While many of us may have not experienced incarceration in World War II, it is natural to have a resurgence of memories from times when we have been bullied, isolated, or otherwise singled out based on our race. A common response is increased fear, isolation, and avoidance of things that remind us of the past.
An excellent solution for this community trauma is community care, where support is mutual and shared among members of a community. This type of support, in conjunction with policy change efforts, is vital to our healing and the prevention of similar attacks. So what can we do to respond to what happened at the Esplanade?
Recognize that it could be beneficial to talk about how you’ve been impacted by news of the attack.
Consider checking in with your Japanese American elders, family, and friends. How are they doing? How are you doing?
What are the places or events where you might feel some support and shelter in community? You might consider coming to Obonfest at OBT on Sat 8/6, or the Annual JACL Picnic at Oaks Park on Sun 8/21. Community spaces can be powerful reminders of our shared resilience and joy.
Mental health therapy might also be beneficial. For more information about how to seek therapy, please see my brief tips below or email me at Spencer@pdxjacl.org.
The recent attack is a frightening reminder of violence, but we are not strangers to coping with trauma. Repeated reminders to “gaman” may have carried our community through the past, but we have the chance to make a new way forward.
May we lean into community in times of pain and fear, both giving and receiving care.
Survivors or witnesses of hate crimes can use the hotline to talk to trained staff, receive a referral to law enforcement, or be put in touch with a social service agency. Interpreters available in 240 languages. Can report online or over the phone (1-844-924-2427).
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.
Matthew Weisbly, Education & Communications Coordinator
On Saturday, July 2, a family was assaulted in Portland, Oregon while bicycling in a well-traveled and public space. The assailant verbally and physically attacked the family because they were Japanese; the man has been arrested and faces two counts of bias crimes in the first and second degrees. He was apprehended due to the intervention and assistance of numerous bystanders. The family members who were attacked, the father and his 5-year-old daughter, escaped serious injury, despite reports of the assailant striking the girl multiple times in the head.
This attack is especially distressing coming a few weeks after the commemoration of the murder of Vincent Chin 40 years ago. Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was murdered because his killers mistakenly believed he was Japanese and blamed him for the ongoing trade wars and difficulties in the American auto industry which led to their unemployment. As we have seen all too often in the past two years with the rising reports of anti-Asian hate incidents, the underlying racism that led to the murder of Vincent Chin continues to persist to this day.
One aspect of this incident that does distinguish itself is the intervention from the bystanders. JACL applauds the individuals who stepped forward to stop the violence and ensure the perpetrator was apprehended by the police. These people are the heroes who made sure that the violence did not escalate
“We are grateful for the swift intervention of the people in the vicinity of the attack who represent the true hearts of Portland residents,” stated Portland JACL chapter president, Jeff Matsumoto. “Like the vast majority of Portland residents, we are appalled at the racist attack that occurred as yet another example of anti-Asian bias and hatred which we call upon all our fellow citizens to condemn and intervene when they see it happening.”
Oregon Rises Above Hate Response to July 2 Anti-Asian Attack
Our Asian American Native Hawai’ian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community, in solidarity with other communities of color, is horrified and angered by the racially-motivated violent attack against a Japanese family, including a 5 year old child, while they were enjoying Portland. Without the intervention of bystanders, there could have been a more horrifying outcome. This unprovoked attack continues a pattern of rising hostility and overt acts of violence against AANHPI, and it must be stopped.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade should not come as a surprise. While we here in Oregon have protected a person’s right to choose, at least 22 states and likely more to follow, have left millions of people without crucial reproductive care. The Portland JACL is committed to finding ways to support communities of color, the working poor, and immigrants who will disproportionately be affected by the court’s reversal to protect a person’s reproductive freedoms.
The decision hamstrings substantive due process as a theory to advance civil rights by claiming that such substantive due process rights must have a basis in long standing tradition. And, though conservative Justice Kavanaugh states how our rights protected under the fourteenth amendment are not in jeopardy, these words fall short of believable as he also stated that Roe v. Wade was settled law during his confirmation hearing.
Furthermore, despite reassurances from Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Alito that overturning Roe v. Wade as a Fourteenth Amendment right implicates only abortion, their reassurances appear disingenuous at best, if not outright duplicitous. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion, explicitly urged that other Fourteenth Amendment rights cases be reconsidered. Those other cases include: Griswold v. Connecticut, which allows access to contraception; Lawrence v. Texas, which protects the right of consenting adults to engage in sexual activity without fear of criminal reprisal; and Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognizes marriage as a civil right to which same-sex couples are also entitled to. Losing the federal right to abortion is heartbreaking but may foreshadow the loss of other important civil rights.
Whether it is restricting a person’s ability to travel freely, increased monitoring and surveillance or criminalizing who you love, Portland JACL will remain vigilant for the repercussions of the Supreme Court’s ruling to vacate fifty years of standing precedent.
With the Fourth of July right around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be an American. In the more recent years, I’ve felt conflicted about celebrating the 4th and I know I’m not alone. For many, the Fourth of July symbolizes some of the very ugly truths about the foundation of our country and the ongoing legacy of white supremacy in the United States.
Many Black people were still enslaved when the Declaration of Independence was signed. How can we celebrate our freedom as a nation on a day when we were not all truly free?
Who Gets to Be an American Like many other practices and policies in the United States, the Fourth of July reinforces who gets to be an ‘American’. It suggests to us who is worthy of and who is excluded from the freedoms and justices that are, supposedly, a birthright in this country. It is part of the marginalization that takes place on a daily basis in the United States that tells us who fits in and who is an ‘Other’.
I remember being a participant in an equity training several years back. The facilitator asked us to close our eyes and imagine an ‘American’. When we opened our eyes, many of us described a similar person: a white, cisgender, straight and able-bodied man. The facilitator encouraged us to explore the messages we’d received- through movies and television, representation in leadership, whose stories were told in classrooms, etc.- that had shaped how we viewed ourselves and others. The same messages that had constructed my idea of who is an ‘American’, also painted Asian Americans as ‘perpetual foreigners’, suggested the inferiority of Black and Brown people, and made invisible Native Americans.
These messages can impact our sense of self, how we relate with other people, and further cause harm by normalizing the inequities that are produced by racist and oppressive policies.
How We Resist Messages that other and dehumanize are all around us, but we also get a say in our own narratives. We get to choose what and how we celebrate. While long overdue, Juneteenth is now a recognized federal holiday thanks to decades of organizing and advocacy by Black leaders and activists in the Juneteenth movement. Even before it was established as a federal holiday, though, people honored the day through local celebrations.
This summer, there will be more opportunities to celebrate our community and culture, like Obon and the annual Nikkei community picnic. When we build community and honor our traditions, we are claiming our space and our right to exist and to thrive. It is through these small acts of resistance that we can help create a United States in which we are all included and belong. And that, to me, is something worth celebrating.
A Statement from Legal Teams Challenging World War II Japanese American Incarceration Cases
As members of the legal teams that challenged the World War II U.S. Supreme Court cases upholding the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, we are compelled to speak out about the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaked opinion and the use of Korematsu v. United States to justify overruling a major civil rights case, Roe v. Wade. Below is our statement.
ENOUGH. We will NOT be used.
Justice Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization seeks to justify overturning Roe v. Wade on grounds that “Roe was egregiously wrong (emphasis added) from the start” in the same vein as two other notorious Supreme Court decisions upholding blatant racial discrimination, Korematsu v. United States and Plessy v. Ferguson. The leaked draft references a past concurring opinion by Justice Kavanaugh in which he stated that the Korematsu v. United States decision (1944) was discredited because it was egregiously wrong when decided. However, citing to cases discredited for their blatant racially discriminatory underpinnings to justify reversing Roe v. Wade is intellectually dishonest and a mischaracterization of the essence of both cases.