Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Musings: Smoldering Sentiments

Jupiter was all that was left of the night when Koko and I went walking this morning under a sky that was more clear than clouds. Waialeale, hidden for days, stood revealed in all her glory, with just a few wisps that lifted before the sun rose, sending v-shaped shafts of pink and gold light up into the heavens, as mist floated in distant pastures.

Ran into Andy on the road, and we talked briefly about the planning commission, because I’d run into our mutual friend Jimmy Nishida, who serves on that panel, yesterday.

Jimmy was saying what planner Keith Nitta told me before he retired: that nobody expected Kauai would go this way, attracting super rich investors with a penchant for mansions on the beach and agricultural estates. And the county is moving slowly, if at all, to close loopholes in the laws and change earlier planning processes that make it possible for much of this growth to happen.

It seems even the failing and flailing U.S. economy won’t save us. Jimmy said a new batch of condos on Maui, with the lowest priced at $800,000, sold quickly to European investors lured by the weak dollar.

I think a lot of people are alarmed by this trend, which is not only changing the landscape, but the social fabric of our island, turning it into a place of haves and have nots, where the haves don’t want much to do with anybody else. Jimmy said even some of the planning commissioners who represented business interests are freaked out by the type and pace of development that Kauai is seeing.

So what will come of that smoldering sentiment?

Some are worried it might flare up, even blow up, into public demonstrations that could turn into confrontations with the police, and our new chief, Darryl Perry, whom I interviewed yesterday — and liked — is one of them.

I questioned him about the request to purchase what the The Garden Island called “riot gear,” and what Perry termed “safety and protective gear,” asking why he thought such equipment was needed on Kauai, or if this was part of a national trend toward beefing up police forces.

His answer:

”This is partly in response to changing times. We’re not that sleepy old Kauai we were before. There is a group of people on this island who hold very definite views about how the island should be and they are determined to demonstrate and be very vocal about those views. If, in the future, they become more aggressive toward police officers and other people, we want to make sure we’re prepared. Preparation is the key. I don’t like to think of it as riot gear but safety or protective gear to keep our officers and innocent bystanders safe.

I don’t like the word riot. It speaks of mayhem and people out of control. This is protective, for the safety of our officers and bystanders. And globally, if we look at terrorism, it’s moved to the U.S. and we just have to be prepared. We’re not an exception to the rules.”

It really struck me that the cops are afraid of the citizens, at least when the citizens are pissed off and enmasse. On the one hand, that’s the purpose of a demonstration — to exert the will of the public. But on the other, do we really want to have show downs with the cops? Is that Kauai-style, any more than cops taking us on?

I’ve had some bad encounters with a few Kauai cops over the years, but I’ve never wished them any harm. Well, maybe one or two or three individuals, but not the whole force, and certainly not over development or political issues. The politicians and decision-makers, not the cops, are the ones who should feel that particular wrath.

The Superferry protests were effective in turning back the boat, which is now languishing on its own. Brad Parsons reported that just 12 cars took the ferry from Oahu to Maui yesterday, its first day back in service, and only 15 vehicles made the return trip.

And the Maui News today reported on widespread seasickness, including this quote:

"It was one of the most miserable rides I’ve ever had,” said Kim Lane of Seattle.

With publicity and numbers like that, th Superferry won’t last long.

But there will be another issue – there are ongoing issues – and we as a community need to decide whether they’ll be best addressed fighting with cops in the street, or through the political process. In truth, I'm not convinced either approach is effective. So then the question becomes, what is?


Anonymous said...

I'm glad that the police are getting protective (riot) gear and I hope that they get some good training to go with it. I think the cops can get fearful when they are surrounded by demonstrators and are potentially at risk of injury. Wouldn't you? If they are better protected and better trained, the potential for both injury and police overeaction are reduced.
My experience with police here on Kaua`i has (almost) always been positive, even when I've been part of demonstrations. The police are doing their job, whether they like it or not. Like you said, it's the people who order them out (the politicians) who deserve our ire, not the cops. Andy B.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I fundamentally disagree with Andy B. and Chief Perry.

One of the benefits of living in a small community is the mutual accountability and respect which grows from familiarity. The fact that many people at the superferry protests had some personal relationship to the police made it more likely that the situation would not escalate.

Once those same guys - who are more than likely the friends, neighbors or cousins of a number of the protesters, put on a mask and a shield and a taser, the familiarity disappears and the potential for escalation of a conflict goes up dramatically.

There are better ways to plan for civil unrest - which as Joan points out is tied to growing civil frustration over injustice - than greater militarization and dehumanization.

Look at it this way - civil unrest can be prevented altogether through real social justice which involves the community in its implementation. What I see when I see the police arming themselves for combat is that the elite and the decision-makers have decided to ignore people's needs and demands altogether and just build a higher wall between the haves and the have-nots.

As former SNCC organizer Omali Yeshitela put it: "The police become necessary in human society only at that juncture in human society when it is split between those who have and those who ain't got."


Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

This isn't a comment about the above post, but in general about your blog- it's thoroughly poetic, thoughtful and vivid. I'm off to read more now as we speak but so far I think it's very fine.

Joan Conrow said...

Mahalo for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoy it.

Larry said...

A couple of years ago a man walked out of the State Hospital in Kaneohe. He wasn't particularly dangerous to anyone. But the police took the opportunity to don their "Darth Vader" "protective gear" and have themselves photographed for the newspaper (memory says it was the Star-Bulletin) walking the streets of Kahala to find him. Again, their quarry was a harmless fellow who just walked out, as many other did before and after.

The thought that riot gear would be necessary against peaceful protests is absurd. The gear, and Tasers, and so forth, is designed to intimidate. Video cameras also, when used by police. Intimidate and gain submission.

And that's the danger to the public.

As to training, it's imperfect. I have heard many cops testify or state that Tasers are non-lethal, yet they know that people have been killed. Are they lying just to legislators, or do they believe it? If the latter, then we're beyond the reach of training.

Put a Taser in someone's hand and tell them it's harmless, really, you can use it. It's ok. Many will.

The police you knew many years ago are different from the police today and they in turn are different than the police will be in the future.

If one thinks there is no danger then I suggest checking into the several instances in history when crowds in this country have been fired on with lethal weapons. It has happened and can happen again.

Just a cheerful note to put that "protective gear" in perspective a bit.

Anonymous said...

Right, Larry. And believing that tasers are a non-lethal way of subduing a person leads cops to jump to the taser quicker, instead of finding another way to de-escalate a situation. The choice won't be between the taser and a gun for cops most of the time. The choice will be between the taser and talking or some other form of interaction.

Lethal or not, they are harmful.