SACRAMENTO — The California Legislature on Jan. 11 adjourned in memory to celebrate the life of civil rights activist and attorney Takayo Rose Matsui Ochi, led by Assemblymembers Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), and Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance).
Ochi, who endured her early life in American concentration camps during World War II, was the first Asian American woman commissioner on the Los Angeles Police Commission and the first Asian American woman U.S. assistant attorney general. She passed away on Dec. 13, 2020.
“Rose Ochi is a national treasure,” said Holden. “She not only survived the internment camps but used that experience to make a positive impact for Japanese Americans with redress movement, and fought for justice and fairness for all Americans.”
“Rose Ochi’s legacy is one of a reformer, a visionary, and as an advocate for immigrant issues and civil liberties,” said Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer. “Rose is an icon in California politics and remains a model for those who want to become public servants.”
“I am deeply saddened that we have lost an incredible community and civil rights leader,” said Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park). “Rose Matsui Ochi was a constituent in the 49th District and a well-known community figure. Her activism and advocacy was forged by the experience of being incarcerated along with 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. By witnessing injustice at an early age, Rose became a fierce champion and advocate for civil rights, Japanese American redress and criminal justice reform.
“We must remember her legacy and work by continuing to work for a nation that fights against inequity and push for greater justice for all.”
“Rose Ochi was a strong, beautiful woman who broke many barriers as the first Japanese American woman to serve in the highest levels of public service under President Bill Clinton and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, among many other leadership roles she served in,” said Muratsuchi. “She inspired and supported many women and men like me to continue her legacy of service.”
Ochi was born Dec. 15, 1938 in East Los Angeles. Just three years later, her family spent six months at the Santa Anita Assembly Center before being shipped out to the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. After her family successfully fought their deportation order, they returned to Los Angeles.
Ochi graduated from UCLA in 1959, and from Loyola Law School in 1972. In 1973, while serving as director of Los Angeles Criminal Justice Office, she developed the city’s Use of Force Policy after Eula Love, a Black woman, was shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer. She also played a key role in hiring more women and officers of color with the LAPD.
In 1997, she became the first Asian American woman to serve as an U.S. assistant attorney general under the Clinton Administration. In the 1980s, while working with the Japanese American Citizens League, Ochi was instrumental in the success of the national redress campaign to bring restorative justice to Japanese Americans for human rights violations committed against them by the U.S. government during World War II.
When she returned to Los Angeles, she was appointed to the Los Angeles Police Commission as the first Asian American woman police commissioner, and in 2002, served as the executive director for the California Forensic Science Institute at California State University, Los Angeles.