On Friday, I participated in a panel at UC Berkeley’s law school commemorating the Korematsu case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s actions in interning thousands of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. The government’s actions were based solely on racism. The internment of the Japanese-Americans is perhaps the most blatant example of profiling in American history. (Although the US was at war with Germany, Italy and Japan, people of German and Italian descent were not interned.) In its decision, the Supreme Court adopted without question the government’s argument that internment was necessary for national security reasons – although it has now been documented that the government had no proof that Japanese-Americans were a threat, and in fact had evidence to the contrary.
It was interesting to look back at the Korematsu decision because national security is the exact same argument that the federal government continues to make regarding policies that erode our civil rights. Sikhs, for example, continue to be disproportionately impacted by the TSA’s policy of searching “bulky clothing.” The question is – does this policy really make us safer? If so, where is the evidence? Or does the policy simply cause Sikhs to be unfairly targeted for search (i.e. profiled), thereby increasing suspicion of our communities by the public at large?
One of the biggest lessons of the Korematsu case is that we can’t necessarily depend upon the court system to provide justice for our community when our civil rights are threatened. (In the Korematsu case, the Supreme Court justices affirmed the government’s actions 6-3.) We have to take responsibility for our own freedom. As a community we need to be engaged, organized, and mobilized to challenge head-on any discriminatory policies that impact our community.