Coming together

LIHUE — Police officers, prosecutors, and community members gathered in front of the YWCA of Kauai in solidarity, rallying against racial bias, discrimination and inequality.

“We see the effects of oppression around the country and here at home; in violent crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, bullying, name calling, the ‘us against them mentality,’”said YWCA Director Renae Hamilton-Cambieilh. “We also see poverty, income inequality, substance abuse and homelessness that are also products of an unequal and unjust society.”

As they began marching, the men in blue took up the rear, while some directed traffic. The small parade moved down Hardy Street toward the Historic County Building and some held orange and white signs that read, “Stand against Racism” and “Eliminating racism.”

Part of the event was to give people an opportunity to share their stories.

YWCA Grants Development Manager Rozetta Williams said that she had personally been affected by police brutality when her friend on the mainland was walking down the street and was shot by a police officer.

“After he disclosed that he had a weapon and a permit to carry,” she said. “ I am black woman and a mother of a soon-to-be black man. It angers me that I have never told my son to seek out a police officer if he needs help because I am afraid that he will be unjustly accused because ‘we all look alike.’ It angers me that I have to have the talk with my children about how to behave when they encounter police officers.”

Council Chair Mel Rapozo is a former KPD officer.

“I respect what they do. I know it’s a tough job,” Rapozo said. “They get put in situations where they have to make split-second decisions and I will never second-guess what they do. But on the other hand, I don’t like what’s going on. I don’t like the racism. On Kauai, we’ve never been exposed to that. Growing up, it was a melting pot.”

Racism was a foreign idea for him, he said.

“My first experience in basic training in the military was that people hate each other just because of their color,” Rapozo said. “I just had a hard time with that. I couldn’t believe that it existed. It was so far-fetched. What’s happening now, I’m afraid of where this country is headed.”

At the Historic County Building, the group honored the victims who died recently as a part of racial tension that has plagued the nation.

Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry said recent events, such as the ones in France, Florida, Dallas and the Puhi murder-suicide, were tragedies.

“These unconscionable acts of hate brings vivid reminders that we must work together as a global community — one person, one village at a time — to end indiscriminate racism and senseless acts of violence,” Perry said.

The victims’ names, which included both fallen officers and people who were shot by police officers, were read by community leaders.

“We in Hawaii do have a slightly different racial dynamic than most places on the mainland, but the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color and indigenous peoples is still a complicated one. Having this conversation won’t always be comfortable but it needs to happen if we’re going to move forward.” said Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.

Erin Wilson of Princeville said the event was a good way to getting people talking to policemen.

“I think there are a lot of myths that need to be cleared up and dispelled,” she said. “Law enforcement officers are approachable and they are people.”

Hamilton-Cambieilh said it’s important to remember “Kauai is not experiencing the same level of violence or tension between the community and our police department.”

“Kauai Police Department should not be lumped in with other places and departments that have been in the news for use of force based on racial bias. That is not an accurate reflection of law enforcement on our island. I wish to be very clear about that,” she said.

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