During World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in camps simply for being Japanese American and looking like the enemy who had bombed Pearl Harbor so we understand how it feels to be targeted. We had committed no wrong and there was no trial - our constitutional right to due process was denied. We saw how easily rights could be violated when only a few people speak out. Our organization, NCRR fought a grassroots campaign to win redress for the injustice of the camps and in 1988, the US government apologized and paid redress to those who suffered. We learned a lesson from this experience and understand how important it is to speak out in support of others who are facing similar discrimination.
Since September 11, 2001, we have seen an increase in hate crimes against South Asians, Sikhs and American Muslims. Recently, we have seen more incidences of anti-Islam attacks and hate-talk against American Muslims and Islam. We believe that the Muslim Student Union and the 11 students who protested at the event with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren were exercising their constitutional right to free speech. We believe that they were singled for punishment because of their religion and not for any illegal action on their part. The true crime here is that they are forced to defend themselves for exercising an important democratic value which is the right to protest.
(added at the press conference so not exact): There are times when protests, loud and clear, are not only necessary but critical. These are one of those times. The students were protesting the killings of innocent women and children in Gaza. There was a time when we wish people had protested loudly and clearly. The history of Japanese Americans and of this country would have been far different if there had been protests, loud and clear, during World War II.
UC Irvine 11 – delivered at press conference in Santa Ana after the verdict on September 23, 2011
(spoke from notes so not exact)
Most of us believed that the verdict would be “not guilty” or perhaps a hung jury because we knew that UC Irvine 11 had not committed any crime. However, there were two crimes committed here. The first crime is that there was even a trial at all. It is a crime that these students and their families had to deal with the stress and turmoil of this trial. The second is the verdict. It seems the jury got confused and forgot all the lessons they learned in school about the constitution and the right to free speech.
So what lessons do we learn from this? One is that our constitutional right to free speech is under attack and that there needs to be more education about our rights and that we need to be much stronger in defending them. The second lesson is that the DA may think that he has won and that he can silence people but you can never silence protest against injustice. From my own history I learned that even when Japanese Americans were incarcerated and jailed in camps, they protested the food, labor conditions and the draft. They refused to be drafted as long as they were behind barbed wires. I don’t think we are behind barbed wires yet but it is beginning to feel that way. We will continue to speak out against those who want to silence protest and support those who speak out like the UC Irvine 11.