One week ago, I wrote my my 72nd consecutive mini essay since starting these daily reports in the early days of the COVID-19 shelter-at-home pandemic. Then, I went quiet. It’s not like I ran out of material; I had a list of possible topics and experiences to share. But my voice felt frivolous in the larger milieu of stories headlining our news media—the continued oppression of our fellow Americans, the systemic racism still alive and killing in our country, the lack of meaningful and compassionate leadership coming out of Washington D.C.
So, I spent the last week listening and watching and thinking. And yesterday, Eric and Lulu and I spent the morning at the shoreline in Hanalei, attending a peaceful protest. In the way that’s often done in Hawaii to celebrate the life of someone who’s passed, we held a “paddle-out,” in which friends and family gather on the beach to remember the lost one and then take to the water–on surfboards, canoes, and kayaks–to form a human lei. This one was held to honor George Floyd and other African Americans who have died unjustly.
It was a partly cloudy, partly sunny kind of day. Earlier, before the memorial started, a rainbow arced over the bay.
Hundreds of people of all skin color followed the winding two-lane road into Hanalei. Some carried signs. Some carried lei. Five or six police officers were present, all saying, “Aloha.” And in return, we said, “Mahalo. Thank you for being here.”
Present but not in dress uniform, our new Chief of Police, Todd Raybuck was invited to speak. “I don’t know how deep the pain must be for a person of color to see another person of color die on television like we saw last week,” he said. “I do know what it’s like to watch in anger and pain as someone dressed like me uses unnecessary force or unjustifiable deadly force and takes the life of another human being.”
People gathered in respectful distances with their children and dogs. Elders sat in chairs in the shade. Periodically, I could hear the buzz of a drone flying overhead, capturing aerial imagery, later revealing one set of surfboards laid out on the beach to spell the word, “Love.”
“Today, all of us have to search our own hearts and clean out any signs of prejudice we have in our own life against those who are different from us,” Chief Todd said.
After the words of sharing, paddlers took to the water. Into the circle of humans, more words were shared and flowers tossed. I didn’t paddle out today, although I have in the past.
There have been many times over the past 20 years of living in Hawaii when I have been grateful to call Kauai my home. There are the obvious outward reasons—the beauty of the place. But there’s also something invisible that’s as palpable and prevalent as the trade winds blowing through the archipelago that some call the aloha spirit. The aloha spirit comes in many forms. Many times, I’ve been moved to tears by the love and generosity displayed in these islands, the most remote body of land in the world, especially how people of different races come together after tragic events—the loss of part of a young man’s leg due a shark attack, a friend’s brush with death and long-term hospitalization after falling along Na Pali Coast and hitting her head, and, recently, the historic flooding in April 2018 that washed away homes, roads, bridges, and livelihoods along the northern stretch of road beyond Hanalei.
People show up with food. People show up with helping hands. Pre-COVID-19, people showed up with hugs. People show up to organize fundraisers so the entire island can have a hand in helping our fellow Kauaians get back on their feet. And people show up at paddle-outs.
But I am not white and privileged enough to know Hawaii hasn’t always been this way—or is this way all the time, even now.
Hawaii’s past has been marred with racial injustice.
There’s the infamous murder case from the early 1930s, a short few decades after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom that was led by a group of white businessmen. One Saturday night, a young Navy officer’s wife named Thalia Massie left a a party alone. The next day, she accused five young Honolulu men—Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese—of a horrific crime that no evidence ever supported: gang rape. Things got messy fast. The Navy and white businessmen in Honolulu wanted a swift guilty verdict. Two local newspapers pushed for a guilty verdict. But Massie’s inconsistent testimony at trial contradicted much of the evidence. The jury was deadlocked. Then, Massie’s mother and husband decided to “aid” the police by kidnapping one of the defendants, a Hawaiian man named Joe Kahahawai, in order to coerce a confession. He didn’t confess and was shot to death. Massie’s mother, husband, and an accomplice were arrested trying to dump Kahahawai’s naked body near Halona Blowhole. Things got even messier. The renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow, age 74 and long retired, was hired to represent the defendants. After sensational testimony and arguments, a jury found all three defendants guilty of manslaughter. The judge handed down a prison sentence of 10 years each, but Governor Lawrence M. Judd commutes the sentence to one hour in the custody of the sheriff. That night, the defendants celebrated at a Chinese restaurant. Four days later, the Masseys departed on a ship for San Francisco. Five months later, the Pinkerton Detective Agency submitted a lengthy report to Governor Judd, concluding that Thalia Massie was not raped. All charges against the original five defendants were dropped.
In 2011, the Massie Case made headlines again. This time, because its echo reverberated in another killing. In this one, Christopher Deedy, 27, a white off-duty law enforcement officer, who had arrived in Hawaii 13 hours before and was out partying with a couple friends in Waikiki, shot and killed unarmed Kollin Elderts, 23, native Hawaiian from Kailua, also partying with his friends. The subsequent 2013 murder trial ended in a hung jury. A second jury in 2014 acquitted Deedy of murder but deadlocked on manslaughter. For some, the Deedy trail was another example of a privileged white person who got away with murder.
Just like anywhere, relations between people are complicated. Sometimes, they get ugly. Sometimes deadly.
When Chief Todd finished his talk yesterday, he said, “Aloha kekahi i kekahi.” Love one another. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the crowd to hear in his words those of another. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
Said another way: Love the other.
One way toward loving, I think, is understanding. Part of understanding people is to know their history. I’ve found these resources helpful in understanding people of Hawaii. Maybe you will, too.
The Island Murder
Offshore Podcast. Season One
What else would you add to this list?
Hawaii has seen a bump in the past week, and now sits at 675 COVID-19 cases.