Sunday, December 7, 2014


When the call went out for a demonstration at Honolulu City Lights, organizers knew it was going to be controversial.  This is a family event that thousands of families attend - with rides and food and a festive atmosphere.   So why demonstrate here?   Because for thousands of victims of police brutality across the US and in Hawai`i, there will be no Christmas.   Because for tens of thousands more there will be little holiday joy in the absence of loved ones.  Because there's an epidemic of police murder and brutality - primarily against Black and Brown people!   And because we, and millions of people like us, are the only ones who can bring this epidemic to an end!

Soon after 5pm people began standing in front of the City Municipal with their signs as people streamed into the park.  Many stopped to thank the protesters. 

A cop from the "Civil Affairs Unit" approached the organizers with a map and proposed that they lead us to Punchbowl Street - along the back away, and away from the crowds!   Soon afterwards, as more people began showing up, one cop was heard saying to another:  "How many of these can we identify?"

By 5:30 the small group had swelled toalmost 100 people who began marching through the festivities, past the food booths and people waiting for the parade to pass by, and toward the giant Christmas tree and the mayor's stage. 

As the march wound through the crowd, some people clapped and some cheered.  Some joined the chants.  Some raised their hands in the air as we chanted "Hands Up!  Don't Shoot!"  Others appeared surprised, and a few said "You shouldn't be here."

As the demonstrators approached the tree the crowds got thicker but the group was able to find space close to the tree and the city officialdom onstage.   Demonstrators continued chanting:  "No Justice, No Peace!"  "We can't Breathe!"

The chants were so loud that the mayor was finally forced to acknowledge us by saying that we had a right to protest, but then went on to disavow the same problems in Hawai`i.  This in spite of the fact that the City has just had to pay 1.4 million dollars to a family for the death of Aaron Torres by a police chokehold and asphyxiation, and are still facing a lawsuit for the murder of Stephen Dinnan, who was also asphyxiated by the police.  Despite the fact that Hawai`i is one of the few states that has not made these chokeholds illegal!    In spite of the fact that the police murdered two  civilians, Richard Nelson and James Pickard, Jr. in August 2014. 

The disruption to the mayor's ceremony was also controversial among the crowd.  A few families joined us.  Some nodded knowingly.  Some voiced their disapproval or frowned.  A woman holding her child approached us saying that their family agreed with us, but that the demonstration was too loud.   When possible, protesters attempted to engage people around the necessity to act and passed them a short leaflet on why the protest was happening.

One particularly vocal woman approached a demonstrator with a water bottle and began pouring it over her head.   The protester initially continued as though nothing had happened, but when the attack continued she got into a heated conversation with her attacker as her friends stepped up to stand with her.  The woman left. 

It had been announced that the mayor would throw the switches to light the tree at 6:00 pm, but evidently the ceremony was on Hawai`i time.  The chanting went on.  Students showed up with more bullhorns and began leading chants - many of the made up at the moment; others that they had heard on social media reports on demonstrations in other cities. 

At the moment the Christmas tree lights finally went on, demonstrators dropped to the ground and staged a dramatic "die-in" to remember the victims of murders by the police.   In the three minutes of silence that followed, many in the crowd and members of the media snapped photos. 

Then, as the ceremony ended, the demonstrators made their way through a pressing crowd to return to the front of the Municipal Building, all the time shouting "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" while many who were watching raised their arms.

When they reached the large paved area near the building they stopped, formed a circle, and chalked the area with their messages.  Adrenaline was high and no one seemed to want the evening to end and continued chanting.   As some people left, others who saw the group picked up their signs and joined.  A small child began beating on a pan; an even smaller toddler danced to the chanting.   People stopped to snap pictures.  A group of teenagers from McKinley HS jumped in shouting "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." 

Nothing written in this can begin to capture the mixture of emotions at this demonstration.  The righteous anger, the courage, the defiance, the determination, as well as the hopefulness and the joy at being part of the approximately 150 people who participated.   Approximately 150 people - students, families, and older people of every race and ethnicity had come together to demand an end to police murder and brutality.  Tens of thousands of people had heard our voices and many were showing their solidarity.   Older women who had been part of the 60's talked about feeling an energy they hadn't felt for decades! 

As the demonstration ended with "Ain't No Power Like the Power of the People" people broke down into small groups and made connections.  E-mails were exchanged.  UH students exchanged e-mails with students from other departments and faculty members were heard exclaiming:  "Where did these students come from?"  Suggestions for the next demonstration were being shared.

While controversial, this action was one that must provoke continuing discussions among people as they talk about what they experienced, or what they see on TV and the social media.  What is it going to take to end police brutality?  What kinds of actions are necessary?   Are new laws, new commissions, and police re-training going to bring about the kind of change that's needed?  Is the system itself really racist?  Why is the slogan "Black People Matter" necessary? Is the whole system the problem - or is the hole system illegitimate?  What would change look like?  This is the kind of discussion that must go on - among friends and family, in  clubs, classrooms and churches.   But conversation alone isn't going to be enough!   The righteous struggle for justice needs to spread and intensify in many forms - and it can't stop until this horror is ended once and for all!

Following are a few more photos.


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