It was such a quiet morning when Koko and I went walking that I heard a cardinal taking flight from a utility line, caught the rustle of a gecko jumping off a guardrail and into the brush.
The sun rose and everything turned a dreamy soft pink, including the clouds that were spilling over the summit of Waialeale, drifting lazily along the peaks of Makaleha, massing above the Sleeping Giant. The air, scrubbed clean by last night’s rain, carried the pungent, slightly medicinal scent of eucalyptus, and it was infused with pinkness, too.
Chickens sauntered slowly in front of us, taunting Koko — I swear they know when she’s on a leash — and some of the dog friends we’ve made along our route came over to say good morning. As did my neighbor Andy, although he used words, whereas dogs are all body language.
We walked a ways together and somehow got on the topic of Kauai cops again — I think it started with his comment on the story I wrote about Andrea Brower, and how she has a lot of leadership potential, in part because there’s a sweetness rather than a stridency to her activism, perhaps because she was born and raised here. But other emerging activists were not, and so they have a different style that’s a bit more in your face, which might be why the cops feel like they need protective (aka riot) gear, because some of the new ones aren't originally from here, either.
No doubt about it, both the cops and the protestors — but not the politics — have changed since the days when people demonstrated against the corruption that allowed a hotel (now the Hyatt: correx, I meant Hilton) to be built at Nukolii. And so has Kauai since the time when it had its first traffic light on the cane haul road at Mana and Andy and his friends, on their way up to Kokee or Waimea Canyon, used to slow way down to see if they could get caught at the light.
What a concept. Now that light is no longer functioning because Kekaha Sugar is pau, but we’ve got too many lights to count everyplace else, including a new temporary one at the main entrance to Kilauea, where the traffic has been getting all jammed up since the county started rebuilding the Kolo Road bridge and closed off the town’s second access.
Our new police chief, Darryl Perry, who grew up in Lawai, remembers the old days, too. In our interview last week, he told me of hitchhiking home after basketball practice and waiting sometimes 20 minutes for a car to even drive by the Round Building in Lihue — a scenario that now isn’t even likely in the middle of the night.
But he’s also preparing for the new days, telling me that Kauai is going to get a lot of growth whether we want it or not because it’s so beautiful that lots of people want to live here. And as the infrastructure is upgraded, he said, folks are going to start coming in droves. I didn’t get the sense he especially liked that scenario, but was looking at it from the perspective of needing to move KPD into the 21st Century. And not just with riot/protective gear, but more training and national accreditation intended to reduce the cronyism and corruption that has raised eyebrows among law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
Andy said he remembered testifying against the Kapaa bypass road back in the late 1970s, thinking — as did many of his friends — that a lack of infrastructure would slow development. Instead, he said, the county just went ahead and allowed development without infrastructure.
So now we’ve got what we’ve got: infrastructure that’s pretty much maxed out, a whole new class of people who can afford to live wherever they want, a community that’s torn between grow slow and just grow, a totally ineffective county government and a gorgeous island with a lot of vacant land owned primarily by companies that are already moving into upscale development.
It’s not a stretch to think that clashes are likely as frustration mounts and these opposing forces meet. But Kauai is still a place where the social and political structure is largely based upon relationships. That’s changing, too, but it hasn’t disappeared yet.
Chief Perry has stated he’s committed to openness and transparency, and he wants to communicate with and better serve the public. I feel his intention in this regard is sincere, which is why I think it’s really crucial that all those involved in various progressive movements and organizations take him up on that, and start building direct relationships with the KPD.
Because in the end, that’s going to do more to ensure that both the cops and citizens remain safe than any riot gear and tasers ever could.