Three Multnomah County Commissioners joined a broad coalition of Asian American organizations and community members Thursday, July 14, to speak out against the scourge of racism and hate crimes directed at them personally and collectively.
Commissioners Susheela Jayapal, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann joined Japanese internment camp survivors, historians and attorneys at a press conference at the Bill Naito Legacy Fountain downtown. Together, leaders from the Japanese American community and the Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community shared deep concerns of both recent and historic bias.
Top of mind was the July 2 attack on Dr. Ryuichiro Abe, who was repeatedly punched along with his 5-year-old daughter while they were bicycling on the Eastbank Esplanade that afternoon. Dylan Kesterson, 36, was later charged with assault, harassment and bias crimes in connection with the attack.
Dr. Abe, who is of Japanese descent and lives in California, provided a letter to the press conference organizers saying, “We moved to California a year ago, and my family was just getting used to the language and culture. I decided to travel to Portland because I wanted my family to fall in love with America.”
A letter in response to the recent anti-Asian attacks in Portland was written by Oregon Rises Above Hate in solidarity with members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community and other communities of color. The letter offers support for Dr. Abe’s family and other victims of racism in Portland.
“Hate crimes are traumatizing not only to the victims but to the entire related community members as well,” said a letter signed by more than 30 organizations, including the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, the Asian Reporter Newspaper, NAACP Portland, the Coaliton of Communities of Color, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, the Urban League of Portland and others. The letter demands action and calls on elected officials to prioritize and address racism.
Local attorney John Kodachi spoke during the news conference about the shock, outrage and anger he felt upon learning the details of the brutal attack on Dr. Abe’s family. The suspect in the attack was initially released on pretrial supervision, according to news reports, before he missed his scheduled court appearance and was rearrested.
“That raised many questions among our community members,” said Kodachi. “We demand to speak with the district attorney, the police department and the County system.”
Joni Kimoto, World War II internment camp survivor described her family was forced from their home and incarcerated. After living in an internment camp, surrounded by Japanese people, Kimoto moved to Chicago, where she recalls experiencing racism for the first time. Kimoto was bullied, chased home and had rocks thrown at her.
“Children are scarred by experiences like this and healing takes years,” said Kimoto.
The AANHPI community has carried the burden of being victims of repeated racist attacks. Advocates say these anti-Asian hate crimes, including the attack Dr. Abe’s family experienced as well as others that have not gained as much media attention, have created anxiety and panic for many community members when doing everyday activities, like going on a walk or shopping at a grocery store.
“I am noticing, even more than before, when someone turns their head to stare at me as they walk by,” said Commissioner Jayapal, explaining the fear that many people in the Asian community now share simply for being Asian.
Commissioner Jayapal recounted a racist attack aimed at her sister, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. A man was arrested outside her Seattle home on a recent Saturday.
Earlier, the man had been driving by the house, yelling obscenities out of his window. He returned later, approaching the house on foot, yelling “Go back to India,” and threatening to kill Rep. Jayapal.
He was carrying a gun on his hip.
“People are being killed, simply for being Asian,” Commissioner Jayapal said. “We are gathered here this afternoon to say we are here and we’re not going anywhere.”
Commissioner Vega Pederson expressed her rage over the recent violence committed against people of color.
“Let it be heard loud and clear: xenophobia, racism and anti-Asian hate will not be tolerated in our community.”
Commissioner Vega Pederson shared resources and hotlines where victims of hate crimes can call and receive support. Those local hotlines include the Racial Equity Support Line, at 503-575-3764; the Oregon Department of Justice’s Non-Emergency Bias Response Hotline, at 1-844-924-BIAS  or StandAgainstHate.Oregon.gov; and the Call to Safety Hotline at 503-235-5333.
Commissioner Stegmann shared her personal experience as a Korean American who has directly experienced hate crimes. Commissioner Stegmann recalled being called derogatory names and said, at times, she felt reluctant to take up physical space.
She noted that all people want and need a sense of belonging, and that, sometimes, people can blame and attack others in hopes that it will make them feel better about themselves. “Oftentimes people who perpetrate physical violence are victims themselves,” she said.
“I ask you to join us to speak out against hate and learn about different cultures and people, and to stand up for one another,” she said.