Racial Injustices of the Myles Fukunaga Case

The prejudice against Japanese
Americans by the Haoles in Hawaii before and during World War II was prominent
and it affected the daily life in Hawaii. 
There are many examples of racial injustices that occurred in Hawaii
before World War II, but the hanging of Myles Fukunaga shows the flaws and injustices
brought upon the Japanese Americans by the Haoles.  During the Myles Fukunaga case, Fukunaga did
not receive a fair trial, and was charged hastily by the court due to the fact
that he was not a powerful Haole during the Anti-Japanese Movement. 

Myles Fukunaga was a Japanese
American boy of the Nisei generation and lived in Hawaii with his parents and
siblings.  His parents worked on the
plantations on Kauai before moving to work on the plantations in Oahu.  The Fukunaga family was poor just like most other
Japanese American families at the time and struggled to send Myles to
school.  Since Myles was the eldest of
his siblings, he upheld his duty to his family and quit school to find work to
support his family.  Myles Fukunaga did
not enjoy his life as a poor Japanese American who needed to work to support his
family and unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself multiple times.  In 1928, a rent collector from the Hawaiian
Trust Company demanded twenty dollars from the Fukunaga family, which the
family didn’t have.  Myles got into a
confrontation with the rent collector which sparked a hatred towards the
company inside Myles.  From this hatred,
Myles started to focus on how he would get revenge and found his solution
through a ten-year-old boy named, Gill Jamieson.  Gill happened to be the son of the Vice
President of the Hawaiian Trust Fund, Frederick Jamieson, and was the target of
Fukunaga’s revenge (Okamura, 2014, p. 49-50).

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On September 18, 1928, Fukunaga
went to Punahou School and kidnapped Gill Jamieson.  Fukunaga took him to a hideout and killed
Gill by hitting him on the head repeatedly with a chisel and choking him to
death.  After killing Gill Jamieson,
Fukunaga sent a ransom demand for $10,000 to the Jamieson family promising the
safe return of Gill if he got the money. 
Fukunaga met with Frederick Jamieson that night and fled with $4,000 in
his pocket.  News of this kidnapping
spread like wildfire throughout Oahu, and due to the wording on the ransom
note, suddenly all Japanese Americans on Oahu were under scrutiny and were deemed
as possible suspects.  The former chauffer,
Harry Kaisan, for the Jamieson family happened to be a local Japanese American
and was immediately pointed out as a suspect. 
Harry was taken down to the police station and drugged in order to
persuade him to confess, but he didn’t confess and was later released (Densho
Encyclopedia, n.d.).  The drugging of
Harry Kaisan is one of the many racial injustices committed by the community on
Oahu in the Fukunaga case.  Harry was
automatically a suspect in the case because he was of Japanese descent and was
treated poorly to try get a confession out of him.  The hunt for the kidnapper was ongoing for
multiple days and the result was Japanese Americans being racially profiled by
the police and the Big 5 companies.  During
all this panic and confusion, hatred towards the Japanese in Hawaii by the rest
of the community started to brew. 
According to the Densho Encyclopedia, “Japanese community members bought
guns to defend themselves, and Issei parents frightened of anti-Japanese
pogroms warned their children to come home directly after school.”  The search for “The Three Kings” started a
widespread panic throughout the Japanese community because the Japanese
Americans were being racially profiled, and they were scared of possible retaliatory
actions by the rest of the non-Japanese community.

On September 22, 1928, Myles
Fukunaga was arrested and fully admitted to the kidnapping and murder of Gill
Jamieson.  Just ten days after the murder,
Fukunaga was at trial with two defense attorneys who barely fought for him.  The trial process was elongated due to a
newly appointed attorney and many challenges by Fukunaga’s attorney, but
throughout the trial, many injustices towards Myles Fukunaga were committed.  One injustice shown to Fukunaga during this
case was that most of the jury on his case already had opinions that Fukunaga
was guilty before the trial.  Many jurors
truthfully stated that they were friends of the Jamieson family, and of the final
twelve jurors, only one was Japanese American. 
Fukunaga was only given a ninety-minute psychiatric exam although there
was enough evidence to determine that Myles was mentally insane.  The doctors who conducted the exam ended up telling
the court that Fukunaga was aware of what he did and was not insane.  On November 19, 1929, Myles Fukunaga was
executed by hanging.

During the trial, there were many
errors and racial injustices towards Fukunaga. 
It was obvious that he committed the crime, and no one was fighting
against that, but it was the process of the unfair trial that got the Japanese
American community upset.  Fukunaga was
not given adequate attorneys in the beginning of the trial, didn’t have a
complete psychiatric exam done to show that he was mentally insane, and didn’t receive
an unbiased jury.  As Dr. Jonathan
Okamura stated in his book ‘From Race to Ethnicity: Interpreting Japanese
American Experiences in Hawaii’, “As I interpret
the case, it was because Fukunaga was Japanese American and not haole that he
was raced to his conviction and subsequent execution, despite probably being
legally insane.”  From this quote, Dr.
Okamura states that all of the injustices that happened to Fukunaga during his
trial was due to the fact that he was not white.  If it were a person from the white community
who had kidnapped and killed a Japanese American boy during this time, the
trial process and outcome of the case would have not been the same as Fukunaga’s.  In the end, Myles Fukunaga was made an
example of by the Haoles during the Anti-Japanese Movement, trying to draw a
racial line between themselves and those who were seen as inferior to them.

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