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.