During last week's Portland City Council hearing on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Commissioner Dan Saltzman literally drew hisses when, before voting yes, he appeared to minimize concerns by many speakers who fretted over the FBI's less-than-stellar record on civil rights.
"While the FBI has a checkered history, it doesn't do us any good to be sitting here and talking about things that happened 60 years ago or 50 years ago," Saltzman said.
This morning, that comment came back to bite Saltzman: He received a harsh letter (PDF) from the son of one of those speakers, Scott Sakamoto.
Scott's father, Henry, in urging against tighter ties with the JTTF, had told the council of his experience as a Japanese-American internee during World War II. And Henry reminded everyone that the FBI played a role in the run-up to that shameful chapter of American history. (Never mind that the FBI's own auditors have found they continue to do bad things: like profiling and keeping reports on otherwise innocent peace activists and Muslims.)
Saltzman might have been aiming his rhetoric more at some of the other speakers, but that's not how Scott Sakamoto took it. His letter calls the comment "deeply hurtful" and demands an apology.
Your comment seemed particularly directed at our community as it was made after my father, a survivor of these camps, testified before Council regarding his experience sixty years ago. To say the past has no relevance suggests that the abuses of the past provide no guidance or insight into the decisions we make today.
The Japanese American community is not alone in invoking the powerful words “never again.” Yet the only way we ensure that we never again allow government to abuse its powers is to talk openly about our past so that we may truly learn. History rarely repeats itself in exactly the same way as the past. In the 1940s, it was the Japanese Americans targeted by the FBI. Today it is well documented that the FBI targets those of the Muslim faith or Middle Eastern background. My father’s testimony on behalf of our community was intended to remind all of us of how, under the guise of fear, we violate the fundamental rights of those in our country.
What does Saltzman have to say about the letter? I've left a few messages for his chief of staff, who was at the mayor's budget press conference this morning. I'll update when I hear back.