Writing in the time of COVID-19: Day Seventy

Snails have faces.

That’s the title of an essay I read this morning by Paul Gruchow, and that’s the image I’m holding onto this somber morning, as I wake to even more distressing news in our country. A black man killed by a kneeling police officer in Minneapolis. A white woman choking her dog and calling the police on a “threatening” birder in New York—a threatening African American birder. A president on Twitter threatening to shoot people. Even as far away as Hawaii, these headlines hurt my heart and soul.

I can only think, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

It’s not lost on me that the man I’m quoting, Rodney King, was himself involved in a violent arrest by officers of the L.A. Police Department.

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 5.40.39 PM
Photo credit: David Sischo.

So, I’m thinking of the faces of snails. Hawaii has a bunch of native land snails. But most are extinct and many are endangered, so that’s not the uplifting story I need now. But they are cute.

A week or so ago, I was telling Eric that for the first time in my life, I’d started thinking of police differently. It has a whole lot to do with Kauai’s new chief of police. His name is Todd Raybuck. He’s a friendly, funny, approachable guy. He recently posted on Facebook, “WARNING: First time at the beach in about 4 months. I am so pale I look like I just got off the plane. Please don’t take my picture and try to report me for violating quarantine. Mahalo.”

Since being sworn, Chief Todd has issued a new directive to increase the visibility of police around the island by having patrol cars keep their blue cruising lights on at all times. In other words, he wants the blue lights to do two things: 1) Let people see and know police are around; and 2) Serve as reminders to, say, check your speed. I interpret that to mean he doesn’t want his cops to catch people doing something wrong. Rather, he wants people to catch themselves doing something wrong and correct their behavior. It’s a shift in thinking.

A couple months ago, when Kauai started buckling down with COVID-19 and encouraging stay-at-home restrictions, all non-essential travel was discouraged. In fact, non-essential travel could be ticketed. To ensure we stayed home, Chief Todd set up checkpoints around the island. The first time I went to the grocery store after a three-week fast, I found myself at one such check-point outside Kapaa. There were three or four cops lined up, asking drivers where they were headed. There was also another cop looking a little more official. Maybe it was the hat. Maybe it was the extra stars on his shoulders. When I rolled up to chat with the officer asking me about my business, I wanted to ask, “Is that Chief Raybuck over there?”

But I caught myself before exposing my fan-girl self.

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 6.40.20 PM
Photo credit: Todd Raybuck.

For the past few Saturdays, Chief Todd and a bunch of other police officers and a cadre of pastors have been giving away platters of food. One recent Saturday, he posted, “Another amazing Saturday for Police, Pastors and Platters! 600 platters of banana pancakes, eggs and sausage links given out to the community at Puakea golf course. And a special delivery to the houseless community at Lydgate Campground where I got to meet a little piggy named Pork Chop.”

I just looked online and discovered the mission of the Kauai Police Department goes like this:

The employees of the Kauai Police Department, in full understanding of the aloha spirit, are committed to enhancing the quality of life in our community.

Like many other police departments, KPD’s motto is “To serve and protect.” In Hawaiian, it’s “E ho’omālama pono.”

Pre-COVID-19, that would have meant little to me, just a bunch of meaningless words. But now mid-COVID-19 and mid-Chief Raybuck, the mission statement feels, I don’t know, more personal. Nowadays, instead of seeing police cars in fear—of getting a ticket, of getting arrested for something—I’m seeing them as people, people who care about me. Like the police want me to be healthy and safe. Like they’re not out to get me–or people of color–they’re out to protect me.

Gee. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

I wish more people had Chief Raybucks on their islands and in their cities and towns across the country. Things would be much better. But I am heartened to have Chief Todd on Kauai. And by the faces of snails.


For the second day in a row, Hawaii added three new cases to its statewide COVID-19 count. We’re now at 649.

Be well.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne C. says:

    Chief Todd sounds wonderful. I feel fortunate to be friends with several sheriff’s deputies who remind me that *most* (I truly hope) law enforcement officers really are here to serve and protect their (often very diverse) communities. This is a confounded country, though, in so very many ways. And we desperately need better leadership. It’s hard to feel optimistic sometimes. But next time I think that, maybe I’ll just picture a snail’s face 🐌 That should help.


  2. Susan Hoerner says:

    This one’s a good one!


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tommye says:

    “Fan girl self”. ????? Ha! That’ll be the day.


    1. Kim Steutermann Rogers says:

      You know me well;-)


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