On Friday evening, October 10th, a diverse group of people showed up for a powerful and moving forum on Mass Incarceration & Police Terror at the halau at the Center for Hawaiian Studies Eight people spoke and each, in their own way, spoke with passion and substance to the epidemic of mass incarceration, police brutality, and the (in)justice system. Statistics were made human and a spirit of both compassion and resistance came alive.
Carolyn Hadfield, the manager of Revolution Books and moderator of the event,, framed the forum by calling for unity in building a powerful movement of the people against the epidemic of mass incarceration and police terror, while at the same time respecting each other’s differences and engaging in lively and principled debate over solutions. This framework characterized the forum and the discussion.
Kat Brady, an activist with the Hawai`i Community Alliance on Prisons and a well-known advocate for prisoners, began with an impassioned call to treat prisoners as human beings and denounced the recent cancellation of family visits at Hawai`i’s prisons, the re-institution of prison-striped uniforms, and the denial of physical contact between prisoners and their families and friends. A “numbers nerd,” she broke down stats that exposed Hawai`i’s prison system as one of the most punitive in the U.S. Rafael Kennedy, the new Executive Director of The Drug Policy Forum, followed up with exposure on how the so-called “War on Drugs” is actually a war on the people.
Palikapu Dedman, the Executive Director of Ho`opakele, powerfully exposed the racism of Hawai`i’s prisons, where of the 6,000 prisoners, 4,000 are Native Hawaiians (while Native Hawaiians make up only 24% of the population. He denounced colonialism and characterized Hawai`i’s treatment of its indigenous people as “genocidal” and put forward a call for programs that would heal both the victim and the victimizer based on ho`oponopono and decentralized Pu`uhonua. Nonohe Botelho, a member of “Parents of Murdered Children,” then told of her experience at the hands of the (in)justice system, which denied her to even touch her murdered son because he was “evidence” in a homicide, and then offered no healing or choices in the “justice” process.. She denounced the violence being done by the Court to the Elderts family, who have been forced to re-live Kollin’s murder over and over again, even as the U.S. Agent who murdered him, is back on his job and joined Palikapu’s call for changes in the legal system, victim’s rights, and alternatives to prisons.
Nick Chagnon, one of the authors of a recent article on police brutality in Hawai`i (http://www.civilbeat.com/2014/10/we-need-police-accountability-in-honolulu/.), reported that HPD shot and killed eleven people in a 50-month period, which is four times higher than the national average (even while, statistically, Honolulu has little violent crime). He asked why, out of 148 complaints of police use of force, only six had been sustained – and none of the complaints of “unnecessary use of a firearm” was sustained.
Doug Matsuoka, a member of the Guerrilla Video Hui spoke of his own experiences attempting to video police attacks on the homeless and activists, and how he had been transformed from someone who thought there were “two sides of the story” to someone who is outraged over the inhumanity of the courts and the law toward a homeless community.
Liz Rees, spokesperson for World Can’t Wait-Hawai`i, ended with a powerful call to resistance, tying the epidemic of mass incarceration and police brutality with the epidemic happening across the U.S., Upholding the way the people of Ferguson had stood up to demand justice for Michael Brown, she issued a call to stand with the defiant ones” and build a movement so powerful that it cannot be ignored. She challenged people to be on the streets on October 22nd, and build a movement that could respond powerfully to every incident of police brutality. “Imagine how different it would be if there was a huge movement demanding justice for Kollin Elderts at Agent Deedy’s third trial?
Questions and comments following the forum were both probing and insightful. An ex-prisoner who had served 26 years for stealing a car in his youth talked about his own years in prison, spoke out against racism and Hawai`i’s history of colonization, and underscored the demand for alternatives to prison that would provide support and healing. “Uncle Joe” Tassill, a veteran advocate of alternatives to prison for youth, told of his own experiences in fighting alternatives to incarceration There were different views on whether the problem was “the prison industrial complex” or the repressive nature of this whole system with racism at its core. There was dialogue about the power of the CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and its lobbyists. At the core of the questions and comments was a real desire for a more humane system, where prisoners are treated as human beings, with compassion and with the capacity to heal and change.
About a month ago, a small group of supporters of World Can’t Wait-Hawai`i and Revolution Books met in the wake of the utterly outrageous acquittal of Agent Deedy for the murder of Kollin Elderts, and decided they had to join efforts to take up the Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation in Hawai`i. This forum, co-sponsored by The Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, `Opio Haku Mo`olelo, Ohana Ho`opakele, Community Alliance on prisons, Ohana Ho`opakele, and Malu`Aina Center for NonViolence Education and Action in Hilo was a beginning.
On October 22nd, the National Day of Police Brutality, the Ad Hoc group will coordinate banner drops, displays, and leafleting on the UH-Manoa campus. That evening there will be a Protest March Against Police Brutality in Waikiki beginning at 6pm at the Honolulu Zoo. To get involved in organizing either contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For news about the National Month of Resistance: http://www.stopmassincarceration.net.