A military police officer was suspended last week over his confrontation with Japanese American protesters at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, according to The Military Times.
Japanese Americans from across the country gathered at Fort Sill on June 22 to protest the Trump Administration’s plans to temporarily detain migrant children there. It was noted that hundreds of Japanese American immigrant men were held at Fort Sill during World War II.
The MP, a lieutenant colonel whose name was not released, told the protesters, “You need to move today — now!” and “What don’t you understand? It’s English. Get out.”
The protesters from Tsuru for Solidarity, including former incarcerees, did not comply. The situation was de-escalated when local law enforcement intervened.
“The command has suspended the officer and has launched an investigation,” Maj. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, commanding general of Fort Sill, said in a statement to **The Military Times.** “Additionally, the command has put appropriate measures in place to respect one’s right to protest outside our installation.”
Shoffner also said, “Special interest groups and individuals have a right to express an opinion and protest in accordance with local laws. Our focus is to ensure the safety of our soldiers, families and civilians living and working on the installation. Coordination with local authorities will continue to ensure a combined awareness and community response.”
A Fort Sill spokesman, who said that the officer has been “trained” on how to handle protesters, told the newspaper that demonstrating outside the gates of a military base is legal. “As long as they’re obeying the law, doing it peacefully, everybody’s entitled to that right.”
“We do believe he behaved incorrectly,” the spokesman admitted. “That’s not the way we conduct business.”
Protestor Satsuki Ina, a Bay Area representative who was born at the Tule Lake Segregation Center, said that Tsuru for Solidarity planned to hold a demonstration in a nearby park and a press gaggle in front of the base.
In a telephone conversation with someone at Fort Sill, “they said you can have the press conference here but you can’t have the demonstration,” Ina recalled. But on the day of the event, the group was told that permission for the press gaggle had been revoked.
Ina, who was not given advance notice of the suspension, did not want the officer to be punished but said, “It would be very gratifying to know he’s going to get some training.”
Tsuru for Solidarity issued the following statement on June 28:
“We understand that the military police officer who interrupted our press conference and ordered us to leave the Bentley Gate has been suspended pending an investigation, and that Fort Sill authorities have made changes to their policies regarding the exercise of free speech near the base. We appreciate that the situation was defused and that the military authorities are taking steps to improve their responses to similar events in the future.
“Following the press conference, we conducted a peaceful protest at a nearby park, contesting the government’s cruel and inhumane policy of detaining increasing numbers of migrant children — a policy that is causing Ft. Sill to again be used as a detention site. This is a place which represents for Japanese Americans a place of historical injury — the incarceration of 700 Japanese immigrant men without due process during World War II, part of the incarceration of 120,000 citizens and non-citizens of Japanese ancestry.
“We do not want innocent people to be imprisoned again.
“At the press conference, six survivors of U.S. concentration camps made brief statements about their childhood years that were spent in seven detention sites. Two were born in the camps. Some were incarcerated up to four years.
“Ft. Sill is also where Chiricahua Apache were held as prisoners of war from the late 1800s to the early 20th century and where so-called boarding schools led to the separation of children from their families.
“Tsuru for Solidarity stands with all communities to fight for children and families seeking refuge in the United States. The ongoing incarceration of these children and families will cause lifelong trauma. We continue our efforts to stop our nation from repeating history.”
One of the protesters, Tom Ikeda of Densho, made the following statement before hearing about the officer’s suspension, but said it still applies:
“I respect that my rights as an American citizen come from the blood of men and women who fought in the military and placed themselves in harm’s way. I also know I have the responsibility to speak up when I see innocent people, especially vulnerable children harmed. This is why I went to Fort Sill to protest against the opening of another detention camp for refugee children.
“It is ironic that Japanese American soldiers received field artillery training at Fort Sill at the same time Fort Sill was a military internment camp for 700 Japanese immigrant men. These soldiers became part of the 442nd RCT, a segregated Japanese American infantry unit that fought in Europe and was one of the most decorated units in Army history.
“I know this as a historian and the nephew of Staff Sergeant Francis ‘Bako’ Kinoshita, who was killed in action from a German sniper bullet while fighting with the 442nd. My uncle fought against fascism in Europe and for equality here in the United States even though he had to volunteer for military service from behind barbed wires with armed guards in an American concentration camp in Idaho.”