Our JACL-Wisconsin chapter recently received an email stating (in part): “I am a third-generation Japanese American (living) here in Los Angeles. … I don’t agree with your rebuke of Supreme Court Justice Wisconsin, Rebecca Bradley. I completely agree with her that our current stay-at-home order is ‘the very definition of tyranny.’ And I have compared it with the incarceration of my mother, and others, at Manzanar during WWII. … I feel so badly for [my mother] because I thought she had been through the worst already in her life. The Great Depression and WWII incarceration. But now the lockdown by our government — local Mayor (Eric) Garcetti, state Gov. (Gavin) Newsom and President (Donald) Trump.”
As a Sansei whose parents, grandparents and other relatives were imprisoned at Manzanar and Gila River, I find it personally offensive that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley would choose to equate Wisconsin’s public-health emergency order to the forcible relocation and imprisonment of over 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent.
Recently, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision struck down Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ order to keep nonessential businesses closed for a limited amount of time during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic crisis — an order provided for under Wisconsin state law and legal precedent in cases of health and natural disasters.
In oral arguments before the final decision, Justice Bradley stated that: “In the Korematsu decision, where the [U.S. Supreme Court] said that the need for action was great and time was short and that justified, and I’m quoting, ‘assembling together and placing under guard all those of Japanese ancestry’ in assembly centers during World War II. … Could the Secretary (Wisconsin Acting Secretary of Health) under this broad delegation of legislative power or legislative-like power order people out of their homes into centers where they are properly social distancing in order to combat the pandemic?” She further went on to suggest that Wisconsin’s shelter-at-home order is “the very definition of tyranny.”
Bradley’s comparison distorts my family’s history and promotes a lie to Wisconsin citizens. We are not divided. We are ALL suffering from the effects of this pandemic. Some of us have lost loved ones or watched friends suffer through painful infections without being able to help. Many of us have seen our bank accounts suffer and don’t know when our next paycheck is coming.
The difference is this: Under the “Safer at Home” policy, our elected Wisconsin governor is acting within established rules and precedent and with the concurrence of our best medical professionals to keep us all safe.
“Safer at Home” is temporary and evolving. It is limited to weeks, not years. The intent of “Safer at Home” is not to divide us, but to unite us in fighting this disease. That is just not the same as the government agents coming to our homes, confiscating our belongings and forcibly removing us forever to desolate prison camps because of our Japanese ancestry.
Bradley’s distorted comparison of my parents’ and Japanese Americans’ history to temporary shelter-in-place recommendations made for public safety is irresponsible and divisive. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s destruction of “Safer at Home,” a policy put in place by a duly elected governor, is the true definition of tyranny.
Ron Kuramoto is president of the JACL-Wisconsin Chapter.