Suffer the Children: The Anti-Concentration Camp Protest in Fort Sill
8:16 AM EDT on June 24, 2019
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matthew 19:14
I was born into two worlds, the Indigenous and the Latino, mostly left to fend for myself in discovering the hateful blows and punches that both are routinely served in America. Having been mostly dormant for a year, when I was sent information about a protest against the opening of concentration camps (Editor's note: cue semantics debate in comments) at Fort Sill—one that affected Natives years ago and one that will affect Latino children in a few weeks—I decided to end my forced retirement.
Known famously for imprisoning the Indigenous leader Geronimo and over 400 Apache, including women and children, in the late 1800s, as well as housing numerous Asian-Americans during the infamous internment polices of the 1940s, under Trump’s rule, Fort Sill will now intern a large number of children and teen refugees—separated from their parents, mind you—in the continuing effort against anyone and anything with Latin blood.
The protest against the reopening of these concentration camps was held this past Saturday at Shepler Park in Lawton, Oklahoma. It was organized by Tsuru for Solidarity, a Japanese American organization dedicated to ending the detention and separation of families, along with many elders who had lived in the Japanese internment camps; they were all coming to Fort Sill to have their voices heard. By the time I got there, a couple hundred protestors had already shown up, a number that kept growing throughout the day.
I had heard about this protest from my friends in the American Indian Movement – Indian Territory, so as soon as I arrived, I made sure to pay my respects and tell them thank you for the invitation. AIM Spiritual Leader Michael Topaum gave me a blessing before the speakers began, a wholly necessary bit of holy medicine I’ve needed for quite a while, breathing in deep the burning cedar.
Reporters from across the country and even some from around the globe turned up to tell the story of what was going on here today, but, strangely, no counter-protestors came down to cause trouble; they must have all gone to Pride, I reckoned. With only maybe one or two undercover cops in the crowd, the protest began with prayers and offerings, a calming balm that truly added an aura of peace and hope to the surroundings.
To hear, first-hand, the stories of both the Japanese interment survivors and the families of Natives that suffered in these camps, it truly is a heartbreaking tell, one that had me looking down at the ground feeling a mixture of disgust and shame. But, as horrible as those camps were, the speakers reiterated that there was one main difference: the government didn’t break up families, as seems to be the norm now.
Even worse, with the Trump administration cutting basics such as soap, toothpaste, and even a simple ball to kick around, it’s as if he’s determined to forge a whole new generation of adults who will never forget the way they were treated here, growing up to loathe this country, fostering a hatred that seems almost justified. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” is officially just a quaint adage now, I guess.
Over the course of the protest, speakers from different organizations including Black Lives Matter, Dream Action Oklahoma and others gave impassioned speeches that, sadly, were probably only heard by the choir. Right now, as you read this, some of you are probably thinking about starting an argument, possibly about how Obama “did the same thing” a few years ago, or some other way to hinder and harm the sacred speech of these protestors.
But, while you’re dwelling on your petty war of words, this country—and, very soon, this state of Oklahoma—will have the very real blood of more children on their hands. I don’t have all the answers, but I know there has to be a better way than this. And if not, well, I hope God will have mercy on your souls, because I sure as Hell wouldn’t.
As the program came to an end, I walked around and shook the hands of a few of the Japanese camp survivors; an older man who I stopped to talk to told me that, in his lifetime, he couldn’t believe this is happening all over again. I tried to say something, but nothing would come out.
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