We Must Stand Up for the Innocent while Demanding Justice
By Jim Purcell
October 9, 2001
"JUSTICE WILL BE DONE" blared a headline on September
21, 2001, quoting a speech by President Bush. But will it be justice for
all? Not if we continue to read about airline authorities refusing to
fly certain passengers because they look like Arabs or Muslims. Not if
assaults on "foreigners" continue and grow in number. Not if
the civil liberties of American citizens and others legally present are
trampled upon in the name of "national security."
We have been through this before. The day after Pearl Harbor, the San
Francisco Chronicle under the headline "This is a Tough Time for
American Japanese" said, "There is no excuse to wound the sensibilities
of any persons in America by showing suspicion or prejudice. That ...
is [only] a help to fifth-column spirit. An American-born Nazi would like
nothing better than to set the dogs of prejudice on a first-class American
But less than two months later, the California State Legislature passed
a resolution ordering the State Personnel Board to "make such rules
as may be necessary to provide for the dismissal from the service of such
persons as may be proved to be disloyal to the United States." One
of the bill's authors, Senator D. Jack Metzger, was quoted in the Oakland
Tribune on February 3, 1942, "I don't believe there is a single Japanese
in the world who is not pulling for Japan. They will spy, commit sabotage,
or die if necessary. I don't believe we can afford to have any Japanese
handling State records." Three weeks later, after President
Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Japanese internment
camps, the Chronicle caved, "We have to be tough, even if civil rights
do take a beating for a time."
Earl Warren, then the California attorney general, declared the Personnel
Board's action to dismiss state employees with Japanese sounding names
to be unconstitutional. The Board ignored his opinion. Many employees
in question were innocent even of the most benign "charges"
made against them: most could not read Japanese (and thus did not subscribe
to Japanese newspapers), did not attend Buddhist temples, and had renounced
their Japanese citizenship.
My father, James C. Purcell, a San Francisco attorney, represented some
of those state employees in their unsuccessful fight to keep their jobs.
On October 12, 1944, he stood before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue for
the release of Mitsuye Endo. Two years before, at the age of 22, this
American-born clerical worker in the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento
became one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment camps.
Raised as a Methodist, she did not speak or read Japanese and had never
visited Japan. She even had a brother serving in the U.S. Army. On December
18, 1944, the Court ruled in favor of Ms. Endo, but it also ruled against
Fred Korematsu, another U.S. citizen, who was also interned in one of
On September 20, 2001, a Mercury News headline noted, "U.S.
Expands Power to Detain Immigrants." The Chronicle of Higher Education
reported the next day that the U.S. Department of Education was easing
student-privacy rules for the sake of the FBI's terrorism investigation.
A few days earlier, my daughter Jamalle e-mailed me from her graduate
school in Chicago, "I'm still in shock. People were weepy all day
in class, and so many were angry. I can't believe the hate that has risen
for Muslims. So sad and scary." Jamalle's name means "beautiful
inside and out" in Arabic. She was named after one of my aunts who
like my mother is 100% Lebanese.
I want those responsible for the murder of innocent people in New York,
Washington DC and Pennsylvania brought to justice. I also want moral leadership
from our elected officials, the media and our communities to overcome
the evil aftermath that has surfaced as a result of the tragedy of September
11. Fear combined with hate and the desire for vengeance often leads to
punishing the innocent. We must stand up for the innocent at home and
abroad as we demand justice for the guilty.
Reprinted by permission of the San
Jose Mercury News. Edited by permission of the author.
Jim Purcell is Vice President of University Relations
at Santa Clara University.
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