Saturday, June 7, 2008

Musings: Diffusing the Edginess

The spicy-sweet scent of mock orange was the first smell to greet me when I stepped out my door this morning. The first sound was the cluck-cluck, cheep-cheep-cheep of a hen guiding her flock of puff balls from their roost, which caused Koko to strain at her leash while I was putting on my shoes.

And then we were off, under a sky that was mostly gray, although before we returned a small puka had opened up to showcase the gold glow of the rising sun and Waialeale had slipped free of her clouds and stood clear, although within an hour, she was covered up again.

Things do change, even as they remain the same, and that's true not only of the sky and weather. Lately there’s been a fair amount of discussion about how the police are changing on Kauai, with complaints that they’re becoming more militaristic and aggressive.

I began wondering if that was really true, especially after listening to a program about direct action on KKCR the other day and witnessing the mellow response of the police at Naue when folks gathered to halt construction of a house atop burials.

For starters, there’s a long history of direct action in Hawaii, going back to the early 1900s when plantation workers began striking to protest bad working conditions, and an equally long history of using the police to control the populace.

An article in People’s Weekly World noted:

In 1882, some 3,454 laborers were arrested for leaving their jobs before their contracts were up. It was estimated that over one-third of the Hawaiian police force was involved in controlling contract laborers.

The article went on to say:

The plantation owners introduced anti-union legislation to break strikes and used the cops to evict strikers from their plantation homes.

In some of these actions, people were killed, including 16 plantation workers in the 1924 Hanapepe Massacre.

An article in the Honolulu Advertiser notes:

Police armed with guns and clubs intervened at union headquarters, where they clashed with Filipino strikers who used homemade weapons and knives to defend themselves. At least three police officers were also killed.

Things settled down for a while on Kauai and then there was a resurgence of protest — this time against development — that began in the late 1960s and continued on into a dispute over plans to evict residents of Niumalu-Nawiliwili for a development project.

By 1977, the conflict had reached the point where it was thought police might be sent in to arrest those who refused to leave, according to the book “Land and Power in Hawaii,” which went on to state:

The chief of police told reporters that 25 officers were being trained in “crowd control.” Essentially they were practicing how to arrest a large group of people.

The next flash point occurred in 1980, when 32 people protesting a hotel project at Nukolii (now the Hilton) were arrested after forming a human chain across the road and, according to the book, “a few were slightly roughed up by police.”

In the years since, I’ve covered many demonstrations throughout Hawaii, including those against geothermal development on the Big Island, resort development and burial disturbances on Maui, the bombing of Kahoolawe, and a meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Honolulu.

They were all peaceful, and the police, though present at all of them, were fairly low-key. This was true even at the ADB protest, which police feared might turn as raucous as the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle. As I accompanied the marchers through Waikiki, police in civilian clothes and lei were visible along the main streets, while heavily armed cops dressed in riot gear were massed in the side streets and alleyways.

But Kauai, meanwhile, saw relatively few direct actions, save for those staged by Hawaiians to protest conditions at homestead housing and rocket launches at PMRF. Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki had pretty much knocked the wind out of the anti-development sails. In all of the actions, people were arrested, but no one was ever killed and the cops never got nuts.

Then along came the Hawaii Superferry, and Kauai saw not only its first direct action in a long time, but the biggest ever. Meanwhile, the world had also changed following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Suddenly, we had Homeland Security and all the fears instilled by a government waging a never-ending “war on terror.”

And that’s where we’re at right now. The cops are edgy at the thought of controlling crowds, something they haven’t had much practice with on Kauai. The activists are edgy after seeing Coast Guard boats train their automatic weapons on the crowd at Nawiliwili Harbor and hearing Gov. Lingle threaten protestors with federal jail time and fines if they entered a security zone around the ferry. And residents are edgy after watching the TV news repeatedly replay footage of a few protestors who got out of hand and started banging on cars at one Superferry demonstration.

But underneath, something really fundamental hasn’t changed. This is still little Kauai, a place where most folks treat one another with kindness and respect, cops rarely pull their guns, direct actions have been historically peaceful, especially in the last 40 years, and violent crimes and actions — whether perpetrated by citizens or cops — are relatively rare.

So maybe, as we move forward in staging direct actions and dealing with the police, we can focus more on the fundamental things that remain unchanged. It seems to me that an understanding of history, and open dialog, can go a long way toward diffusing this new sense of edginess.


Anonymous said...

I too am weary of the militarization of police, which I see as the result of increased efforts by Republican New World Order to control opposition to their policies. Just look at how Homeland security (that name still makes me bristle) was turned against people who got in the way of Lingle and her buddies in the defense industries that sponsored the ferry.

But I am writing to second what Joan wrote, that the KPD still has a human face and we should not forget it. They do help people and do it nicely and for the good of the community. I've only had 2 dealings with them, once when I got locked in at the dump after hours, and once when a smoke alarm was going off in an empty house nearby. In the first case, the dispatcher got a hold of the county employee who could open the gate, in the other, an officer came by, entered the house, and turned off the nuisance. All were handled nicely and without any condescending tone that maybe I was keeping them from more important work or SWAT training.

Then of course, I fallen in a few of their speed traps and they've been very cop-like (strict, unflinching, not friendly, but not mean either). I don't agree with the ticketing for revenue, but it's to be expected and no different from anywhere on the mainland, so I don't hold it against them.

Katy said...

Joan, thanks for the brief people's history lesson. I think those of us who have settled here more recently should watch out for a tendency to view Hawai'i as a "blank slate," where no social movements existed before we showed up!

We can learn alot from past struggles.

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Joan,

I read your article that discussed the Superferry docking in Nawiliwili Harbor last August 26th. You mentioned;

"And residents are edgy after watching the TV news repeatedly replay footage of a few protestors who got out of hand and started banging on cars at the Superferry demonstrations."

Were you there for the hood banging? It did make people edgy, but that is because of how it was reported.

I was there at the gate when the video was shot. The event looped on TV was of one Moloaa resident (I'll leave him unnamed) whacking the hood of an SUV. He did it to get the attention of the driver who was about to run over two men sitting in the road in front of his bumper (and out of sight).

I'm looking at a photo of the two men sitting on the blacktop that was shot prior to the SUV rolling through the crowd at the gate and stopping for a moment in front of them. One man is making a cellphone call. Probably to his doctor or a lawyer. Note in the background the Special Ops Policemen, some with faces covered and badges hidden. If you are interested and send me an email I'll send you a jpeg of the image.

I think you have bought into the mainstream mythology on this subject and are not really reporting the event as it happened. Mainstream mythology (like the desirability of growth and progress) is getting in the way of a lot needed changes.

Juan Wilson

Joan Conrow said...

No, Juan, I was not present at that event. If in fact just one person was banging on one just one car, I'm sorry I misreported the situation through my use of the plural, and I appreciate your correction.

My point, however, is the same as yours: that people are edgy because of what they saw replayed repeatedly on TV, regardless of whether it was an inaccurate representation that was taken out of context.

Mahalo for reminding us of the role that media myths play in shaping people's fears and perceptions.

Anonymous said...

Oh please, Juan! No he wasn't trying to stop the car from running anyone over. I was there. He was just acting crazy and cutting up, caught up in the excitement and the noise. That truck wasn't moving and it wasn't about to run anyone over. this isn't the first time I've heard people try to put a positive spin on this guy's actions. Don't be dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Joan - You related part of the account of the "Hanapepe Massacre" as an example of police being used to quell labor unrest. You left out that in that particular event the Filipino strikers had kidnapped two laborers from Makaweli who had no interest in joining their group and were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The rest of the story is that the police went in to free the two hostages and were met with a violent situation.

Anonymous said...

Good grief Juan. At least accept the reality of the iffy if not bad actions of some of those caught up in the excitement.

Was the guy letting air out of tires doing that for safety as well? Was the shouting and anger in the voices only over safety? What a joke you are becoming.

Civil disobedience is unlawful on its face. You can't pretend otherwise though I'm not saying it isn't appropriate at times. That scares some people. Especially those that imagine how they'd feel if they and their kids were the ones in the middle of the dispute.

Joan Conrow said...

Anonymous wrote:
"You left out that in that particular event the Filipino strikers had kidnapped two laborers from Makaweli who had no interest in joining their group and were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The rest of the story is that the police went in to free the two hostages and were met with a violent situation."

First, this was not intended as a definitive report on the event, but an example of how people have been killed on Kauai in altercations with police as a result of direct political actions.

Second, further quick research on my part indicates the two men from Makaweli were strikebreakers, not merely "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

As for the "freeing the hostages" bit, I will have to wait and check with my definitive source on this subject, my neighbor Andy Bushnell.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:31 appears to be correct. The video is available on You Tube and in it the guy pounding the hood of the car is seen laughing and yelling, "Ow! My foot!" He then immediately wheels around and walks away laughing while others standing near him at the hood of the car are laughing as well.

Anonymous is also correct that others have made similar cynical attempts to rationalize and rehabilitate some of the documented bad behavior of demonstrators. A recent letter to the editor absurdly claimed that the two guys letting the air out of the tires were trying to stop the truck as well which, it was falsely claimed, was trying to run over a group of protesters.

Anonymous said...

Joan - I believe I said that the two kidnap victims were not involved in the strike and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were trying to go to work. You can call them strike breakers from your labor-leaning point of view, but they were two guys just trying to earn a living. Was it not their right to go to work just as it was the strikers right to break their unfair employment contracts? A civil vs. criminal matter. Unfortunately, the strikers turned it from civil to criminal and the rest is history.

Emme Tomimbang appears to give a balanced account of the event in her documentary as covered by Lester Chang in the Garden Island on May 25, 2006.

Here are excerpts:

“As the story goes, strikers held two strike-breakers against their will in Hanapepe, thus triggering the Hanapepe Massacre.“

“According to documents, Crowell reportedly produced papers to show the men being held against their will by the strikers were wanted and Crowell was going to take them into custody.

The two men were eventually turned over to Crowell, and as he and others prepared to leave in cars, they found themselves confronted by an angry crowd.

Crowell cautioned his men not to shoot unless he gave orders to do so. But a shot rang out from the crowd, triggering a melee that led to hand-fighting and stabbings, and the fatalities, the historical account states.”

“Historical documents also showed that 101 Filipinos were arrested, 76 were brought to trial, and 60 were given four-year sentences.

Manlapit, although he was not on the island when the assault occurred, was charged with encouraging others to commit perjury during the trial, and was sentenced to two to 10 years in prison.”

Anonymous said...

It's true. Strikebreakers, or "scabs," as labor calls them, are people who work despite a strike. The name "strikebreaker" might evoke images of goons hired to break up a picket or something along those lines, but that's not the case. They are workers who are willing to work for the wages and under the conditions that striking workers are not.

Katy said...

Yeah. That's why we call them scabs. Funny how the right suddenly finds so much love for the working class in these situations.

In labor's long history it has been crucial to great gains for workers' rights when working people have held eachother accountable for upholding solidarity.

Sure it runs counter to the "every man for himself" philosophy, but there you have it.

You can thank the folks who came up with the word "scab" for your weekends, your health benefits, your fair workplace laws, your health and safety standards on the job, and all those other little things the scabs were willing to give away.

Andy Parx said...

Back to your subject at hand Joan (not the one the anonymous witnesses and assorted trolls would like to use to tangential-ize it) that’s exactly what those of us who are upset about the “tough talk” and purchase of riot gear and tasers have been saying- our cops here have always been our friends and neighbors and have usually acted with great restraint and respect, a few published incident notwithstanding.

And we’d like to keep it that way. And we’re not so sure the current KPD administration agrees with this and as a matter of fact many have interpreted their recent public missives to indicate quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Filthy scabs. Horrible people. And their hungry children too!

Anonymous said...

"your subject at hand Joan (not the one the anonymous witnesses and assorted trolls would like to use to tangential-ize it)" APX

Yeah, Juan. Quit tangential-izing.

Anonymous said...

Katy said, "You can thank the folks who came up with the word "scab" for your weekends, your health benefits...."

Add to that for starters the highest workers' compensation premiums in the nation, the lack of affordable manufactured homes, some of highest taxes in the nation, a labor government that hasn't a clue when it comes to improving and diversifying the local economy, etc.

Anonymous said...

"You can thank the folks who came up with the word "scab" for"...the Haymarket bombing!

Anonymous said...

Awww...that was just "civil disobedience!"

Anonymous said...

For me, the most striking memory of the superferry incident was the speed at which it first entered the harbor ( the first time). That is by far the fastest I have ever seen a big boat come in. If a small boat or a surfer had been in its path the first 200 yards, I am not sure it could have stopped, though I was very impressed with the speed at which it did stop when it finally had to. Interesting observation, lately the people that I have been talking with seem to be supportive of the superferry. It may be that the next direct action we see will be pro-superferry.

In terms of the KPD, I agree they still have a friendly face. Police everywhere have such a tough job, even on Kauai we have people that do not respect the rights of others and either rob them or stab them. We need police, but we need the police to maintain a careful balance, so far, I think KPD has done that.

Katy said...

You're right, we ought to go back to child labor, unsafe workplaces, 80-hour work weeks, no benefits, no retirement, starvation wages, no vacations....oh wait, we ARE going back to that, ever since we started losing our unions.

Oh, and you guys are kidding about the Haymarket incident, right? Where did you get that simplistic reading on history? Your high school text book?

Anonymous said...

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

confusing correlation with causation

fallacy of the single cause

causal oversimplification

Anonymous said...

"In all of the actions, people were arrested, but no one was ever killed and the cops never got nuts."

Joan, I must tell you that some of the cops did go a little nuts on me and a Hawaiian Friend of mine when we were peacefully protesting the Stars Wars launches in the early 90's. A big part of our protest was that the launches were to take place on top of Hawaiian Burials at Nohili Dunes. Even though he is a gentle man, my Hawaiian Friend was singled out as the biggest, baddest looking Hawaiian, and he was verbally and physically roughed up before they took us all to the Waimea police station. On the way in the bus, a couple of local cops picked me out and proceeded to gleefully torture me by taking turns cranking on the plastic handcuffs behind my back, causing semi permanent nerve and muscle damage to both my wrists, hands and arms. As a carpenter, I couldn't work for 6 months after that. As a musician, I couldn't play music. One of the cops told me that he was going to get me alone later and beat the shit out of me because I was a haole long haired hippie communist out-of town agitator, and I didn't belong here.
At the time, it sure felt nuts to me...I couldn't sue the cops for brutality because we all decided to be anonymous for the action. My life experience has been that there is always a percentage of hard ass macho types on any police force. It all comes down from the top, hopefully Chief Perry is a decent man and he has the guts to get rid of the corrupt ones and the social misfits and edge dwellers on "the force".
Keep up the great work. You and the other bloggers are helping to change our world from the inside out.

Joan Conrow said...

Thank you for bringing that to our attention, John Doe. And you're right, there are always a few over the top cops on every force, and let's hope Perry can get rid of them before they have a chance to torture again.

Anonymous said...

Jon Doe - You've left out of your account your big mouth and the insults that you delivered in an attempt to gode the police into taking some action that you could later site and distort into "police brutality". If you got hurt in the process of being arrested, for no good reason I'm sure, it's your own damn fault and you deserved it!

Anonymous said...

Mr/Ms Anonymous? I usually don't like to discuss anything with people who don't have the courage to identify themselves. How dare you accuse me of provoking the cops. You don't know me, you weren't there. People who were there remember that none of us said anything to the overwhelming occupying force, we meditated and prayed on that vision the night before in our encampment. We were chanting Hawaiian Ku`e chants and remaining quiet and focused and within ourselves while the heavily armed enforcers of the burial desecration were dragging us off to the buses. Your lies are all you can say to defend what the 115 year occupation has done to the Hawaiian people, the Iraqi people, the American Indian people, and so many other millions of victims worldwide of the insatiable greed of empire and militarization and "manifest destiny".
Have you ever demonstrated or stood up for anything you really believed in yourself besides this genocidal government and your meal ticket job?
Hold on to your sox Mr/Ms no-name, there is a big change coming that will shake you to your shallow core, or hopefully deeper.

Andy Parx said...

And there's a documentary showing everything Mr Doe said about the event until the videographer was assaulted is true.

Anonymous said...

Is it on You Tube?

Katy said...

It seems to me that there is always a sector of the public who refuses to believe that people can be treated unjustly by police.

In their minds, if someone is arrested, beaten and abused by police, that enough is proof that the person "deserved" it.

Supposedly, our criminal "justice" system doesn't work like that. Police are not supposed to have a free reign to abuse suspects. But the blood-thirsty cheering section egging them on helps to create a climate of acquiescence to police abuse.

When it comes to criminal justice in the US, or for that matter, here on Kaua'i, it's easy to point to individual examples of some suspect who was out of line and "had it coming." But with a problem this widespread, it's helpful to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. That's how we can examine the material results of institutional trends.

For example, we need to ask ourselves why it is that while whites use drugs at roughly the same rate as other racial groups, whites are arrested at such a disproportiately lower rate. This is just one example of the inequities imbedded in the system. We're all accountable here, and it doesn't work to pretend that the problem doesn't exist and that the police are just protecting us from "bad guys."

Anonymous said...

John Doe said... "Mr/Ms Anonymous? I usually don't like to discuss anything with people who don't have the courage to identify themselves."

(This is too easy!) "John Doe" is identifying yourself? lol (John's having a Homer Simpson moment!) Where's YOUR name boy?

John Dope further said, "Hold on to your sox Mr/Ms no-name, there is a big change coming that will shake you to your shallow core, or hopefully deeper."

Oh? My gosh...this is so scarey!! What's the big change Johnny boy? Please elaborate for us. BRING IT ON BABY!!!

Andy Parx said...

The documentary is called "Good Neighbors" and pre-dates youtube. It's probably still available through Kaua`i Worldwide Comminications in Puhi though Ed Coll.