Five Japanese-American elders, survivors of U.S. internment camps, engaged in civil disobedience Saturday outside the Fort Sill Army post in Oklahoma, where the Trump administration plans to indefinitely detain 1,400 immigrant and refugee children starting next month. Fort Sill was an internment camp for 700 Japanese-American men in 1942. It was one of more than 70 sites where the U.S. government incarcerated about 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, including one of 14 U.S. Army bases. President Obama first used Fort Sill in 2014 to detain migrant children seeking asylum from violence in Central America. Descendants of internment camp survivors were also present at the peaceful protest. We speak with Mike Ishii, co-chair of Tsuru for Solidarity. Ishii was at Fort Sill Army Base Saturday and helped organize the act.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to a dramatic scene that unfolded Saturday when five Japanese-American elders, survivors of the U.S. internment camps, engaged in civil disobedience outside the Fort Sill Army post in Oklahoma, where the Trump administration plans to indefinitely detain 1,400 immigrant and refugee children starting next month. Fort Sill was an internment camp for 700 Japanese-American men in 1942. It was one of more than 70 sites where the U.S. government incarcerated about 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II, including one of 14 U.S. Army bases.
President Obama first used Fort Sill in 2014 to detain migrant children seeking asylum from violence in Central America. Last December, Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl, became one of six children to die in Border Patrol custody in less than a year, after she was held in a Customs and Border Patrol facility near the site of another former U.S. internment camp, in Lordsburg, New Mexico.
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Well, Democracy Now! was there in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on Saturday when the Japanese-American elders, incarcerated in these camps, risked arrest to protest, along with descendants of survivors.
SATSUKI INA: My name is Satsuki Ina. I am a former child incarceree during World War II. This is a photograph of me when I was imprisoned. Seventy-five years ago, 120,000 of us were removed from our homes and forcefully incarcerated in prison camps across the country. We are here today to protest the repetition of history.
We were in American concentration camps. We were held under indefinite detention. We were without due process of law. We were charged without any evidence of being a threat to national security, that we were in an unassimilable race, that we would be a threat to the economy.
We hear these exact words today regarding innocent people seeking asylum in this country. And unlike 1942, when America turned their back on us while we were disappearing from our homes, our schools, our farms and our jobs, we are here today to speak out, to protest the unjust incarceration of innocent people seeking refuge in this country. We stand with them, and we are saying, “Stop repeating history.”
KIYOSHI INA: My name is Kiyoshi Ina. I’m from Concord, California. And I spent the first four-and-a-half years in a concentration camp. I was born in Topaz, Utah. And I’m here to protest against the incarceration of the immigrant children here at Fort Sill.
NIKKI NOJIMA LOUIS: I’m Nikki Nojima Louis. And on December 7th, 1941, in Seattle, Washington, I was celebrating my fourth birthday when the FBIinterrupted my birthday party and removed my father to Lordsburg, New Mexico, the DOJ camp, and subsequently Santa Fe, New Mexico. My mother and I were incarcerated at the Puyallup fairgrounds, called Camp Harmony, and later in Minidoka, Idaho.
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: Excuse me, people. Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. You cannot protest on Fort Sill. If you want to protest, you have to go across the street, the highway. And that needs to happen right now. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go. Now. Today!
UNIDENTIFIED: We’re not moving.
CHIZU OMORI: My name is Chizu Omori.
UNIDENTIFIED: We just have our elders, who are saying a couple more statements, please.
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: No. No, ma’am, you may not. You may — again, I will say it — this is the last time. You cannot protest on Fort Sill. You need to move across the street. Now!
UNIDENTIFIED: Chizu, were you going to make a statement?
SATSUKI INA: Go ahead, Chizu.
CHIZU OMORI: Yes.
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: Apparently you didn’t hear what I said.
UNIDENTIFIED: I’m sorry, sir. Our people —
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: You need to move! Today! Now! Right now! Move!
SATSUKI INA: Otherwise what will happen?
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: I — I — I don’t know. I’m not going to arrest you, but you need to move now.
UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you. Continue.
MICHAEL ISHII: Then we’re not going to move.
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: Yes, you’re going to move.
MICHAEL ISHII: If you’re not going to arrest us, we’re not going to move.
SATSUKI INA: Go ahead.
MICHAEL ISHII: Go ahead.
CHIZU OMORI: OK, yes, yes. I spent three-and-a-half years at Poston, Arizona, an American concentration camp, during World War II. And I’m here to bear witness to the travesty of the American justice system, in that the family separation policy, which is ruining the lives of these children. I’m very incensed about the government policy of separating parents. And we, the people, have to stand up and protest this.
TOM IKEDA: My name is Tom Ikeda. I’m the executive director of Densho. It’s a nonprofit in Seattle. And one of the things that Densho does is we’re the story keepers for the community, especially what happened during World War II. And so I came here to honor the story of Kanesaburo Oshima, who was shot and killed here. Nine years ago I interviewed his son in Kona, Hawaii, and he told me how this man with 11 children and businesses in Kona was taken for no crime and brought here. And the trauma of being here, the stress, he ended up, essentially, as his son said, snapped, and he started climbing the fence in broad daylight, saying, “I want to go home.” And as the other internees said, “Don’t shoot,” a guard came up and shot him in the back of his head and killed him. And so, in his honor, I’m here to remember Kanesaburo Oshima.
PAUL TOMITA: My name is Paul Tomita. I’m from Seattle, Washington. This is me in 1943 as a 4-year-old —
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: You need to move. What don’t you understand? It’s English. Get out!
UNIDENTIFIED: Go ahead, Paul.
PAUL TOMITA: And so, what we did was, here, is I had to have this to get out of Minidoka.
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: Hey, hey, look, look, look. I understand your issues, OK? But you cannot protest on Fort Sill.
MICHAEL ISHII: All of our elders who are incarceration survivors have stated publicly that they are willing to be arrested in defense of the children who are going to be brought here.
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: You’ve got one minute.
RENÉE FELTZ: Satsuki, can you please describe what’s happening now?
SATSUKI INA: They’re wanting us to — they’re wanting to remove us. We’ve been removed too many times. If that’s what it comes to —
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: What don’t you people understand?
SATSUKI INA: — we will stay here and —
MILITARY POLICE OFFICER KEYES: What don’t you people understand?
UNIDENTIFIED: We understand the whole history of this country, and we aren’t going to let it happen again. What were you saying, Satsuki?
SATSUKI INA: That we want to make a stand. We want to say that we are protesting the fact that 1,400 children are going to be brought to this military site. We’re here because we do not want to have that happen. And as former children of prison camps, of concentration camps in America, we are saying, “No more. Never again.”
AMY GOODMAN: That was the scene at Fort Sill Army post in Oklahoma Saturday, where Japanese-American survivors of U.S. internment camps, which they call concentration camps, risked arrest Saturday to protest the detention of migrant children there at Fort Sill starting next month.
In a few minutes, we’ll be joined by one of the organizers. First I want to turn to some of the Oklahoma residents who joined in the protest in solidarity at a nearby park Saturday. Some drew attention to how Fort Sill was also used to incarcerate Native Americans and housed a boarding school for Native children separated from their families. Early in its history, it served as a prisoner of war camp for some 300 members of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe who were forcibly relocated from the Southwest in 1894, including the Apache leader Geronimo. We begin with Reverend Sheri Dickerson of Black Lives Matter Oklahoma addressing the crowd.
REV. SHERI DICKERSON: I’ve served in the military, and I did so proudly. But I want to tell you, if you are some of my former military or veteran brothers and sisters, that if you are holding an American flag today or if you are holding in Oklahoma flag, it should be upside down, because we are in distress.
EDSON: My name is Edson. I am with Dream Action Oklahoma, which is an immigration advocacy organization here in Oklahoma. The United States began with a declaration that the people who have lived here are merciless savages, marking their bodies as only something to be exterminated, removed and conquered, and thus they tried, and they did. That is the reality of the land in which we live. In Fort Sill, you can see that in action throughout time, with Geronimo being held, now being used as the very idea of enemy combatant, as it was mentioned, that that’s what they called Osama bin Laden when they killed him.
HETA: My name is Heta [phon.]. I’m glad to be here. I’m a Kiowa woman from the Kiowa Tribe. I guess you could say I am a descendant of a Fort Sill Indian School atrocity. 1871, it was established at Fort Sill. It was established there because they — or, as the people were saying earlier, they were snatched from their homes — to try and do something for them, because they always looked at us and looked down on us, that we were stupid, that we couldn’t do nothing, that we didn’t know nothing. But you know what? That was a lie.
I graduated from Lawton MacArthur. OK? I didn’t say Fort Sill Indian School. I graduated from Lawton MacArthur on the east side of town. And what that was, that individual was kind of like giving us lies, smoothing it over, and after I had graduated, I found out that we were guinea pigs for the government education-wise, because they were still trying to think that they’re going to make us better or be like them. And it didn’t work, because we still have our language, we still have our dances, we still have our songs. We still are still here.
I’m here to talk about — that was my experience, but mainly I’m here today because of the children. The children are always near to my heart, no matter who they are and no matter where — you know, and I’ve seen this. This was given to me, and I said that I was going to be here today, not knowing I was going to be doing this. But my heart breaks for the atrocities that they’re going through. And I see, because I know what it’s like to be abused as a child.
UNIDENTIFIED: We just want to thank Nicole and the ACLU, because they have been our working ground partners here.
NICOLE McAFEE: I think that when they were trying to decide where they would detain children, it’s no — it’s not an accident that they picked Oklahoma. We lead the nation in rate of incarceration of people overall. We lead the nation in rate of incarceration of black people. The number of indigenous people in prisons in Oklahoma has increased by 46% between the years 2008 and 2015. What they did not count on is community. They think by assaulting us on all fronts, they can divide people. But I think today is just a small showing that people in Oklahoma care, that we’re willing to fight, that we’re willing to come together.
AMY GOODMAN: Oklahoma residents protesting in solidarity with Japanese-American elders who are survivors of U.S. internment camps, which they call concentration camps. Special thanks to Renée Feltz and Hany Massoud for that report.
But for more on Saturday’s protests against the detention of migrant children at Fort Sill Army Base planned for next month, we’re joined by Mike Ishii, co-chair of Tsuru for Solidarity, who helped organize Saturday’s Oklahoma protest, his mother incarcerated at the so-called Camp Harmony holding center at Puyallup, Washington, and then Camp Minidoka in Idaho during World War II.
Michael Ishii, it’s great to have you with us. The significance of these elders traveling from where they live, in California and other places, to Oklahoma? What happened at Fort Sill?
MICHAEL ISHII: What happened was that there was an activation and a unification of the outrage of a generation of children that were incarcerated in U.S. concentration camps. They found their voices, and they are coming forward into the public to defend children.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Fort Sill security tried to stop it from happening? This was a kind of civil disobedience they engaged in, because you saw the security coming up and saying they had to leave.
MICHAEL ISHII: Absolutely. We had a meeting beforehand, and they all stepped forward, and they said, “I’m willing to be arrested. This is important enough.”
AMY GOODMAN: And why is it so important to you?
MICHAEL ISHII: Well, my family was incarcerated. I grew up in a family that had members murdered in upstate of New York by people who were racist. My whole family was —
AMY GOODMAN: This was after World War II. Your Japanese-American great-uncle was murdered.
MICHAEL ISHII: Yes. Actually, it was during the war. My family was in Minidoka, in Idaho, the camp. And they heard a report on the news that their — they realized, “Oh, this is our family,” that had been murdered, upstate New York. Yeah. But this is not an unusual story. These are the stories of concentration camps and incarceration in the United States. There’s a historical pattern of detention and separation of families that we’re seeing across the United States, affecting immigrant communities and affecting communities of color.
AMY GOODMAN: And the debate over whether you can call them “concentration camps”? It’s clearly the language that each of the elders used.
MICHAEL ISHII: Absolutely. Well, you know, they lived this experience, so they can speak with moral authority. But these are people who — they were rounded up based on their race. There was no due process. They were put behind barbed wire or in detention centers. And they were held there by armed guards, not unlike what we’re seeing in Clint right now, in Texas, or in all of these other detention sites for children.
AMY GOODMAN: Fourteen hundred children are slated to be sent to Fort Sill, where some Japanese Americans were sent during World War II?
MICHAEL ISHII: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll continue to follow this story and bring out the voices of those who are protesting. Michael Ishii, co-chair of Tsuru for Solidarity, helped organize Saturday’s protest against the detention of migrant children at Fort Sill Army Base. We will post Part 2 of our interview with Mike Ishii at democracynow.org.