Maui hate crime case spotlights Hawaii’s racial complexity
HONOLULU (AP) — In a case that displays Hawaii’s nuanced and sophisticated relationship with race, two Native Hawaiian males are scheduled to be sentenced Thursday for a federal hate crime within the brutal beating of a white man who tried to maneuver into their distant, conventional fishing village.
A jury convicted Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. in November, discovering that they had been motivated by Christopher Kunzelman’s race once they punched, kicked and used a shovel to beat him in 2014. His accidents included a concussion, two damaged ribs and head trauma.
Native attorneys consider that is the primary time the U.S. has prosecuted Native Hawaiians for hate crimes. The distinctive case highlights the struggles between Native Hawaiians who’re adamant about not having their tradition erased and individuals who transfer to Hawaii with out realizing or contemplating its historical past and racial dynamics.
Tensions started over a dilapidated, oceanfront house in Kahakuloa, a small village off a slim highway of hairpin turns and sweeping ocean views on the finish of a valley on Maui, an island identified for luxurious resorts.
Rising up within the village, Alo-Kaonohi would “hunt, fish, farm, reside off the land,” he wrote in a letter to U.S. District Choose J. Michael Seabright. “To make somewhat cash, I’d promote coconuts, mango, flowers, bananas on the facet of the highway to vacationers who could be passing by to see the gorgeous surroundings of Kahakuloa.”
Kunzelman and his spouse bought the home sight-unseen for $175,000 as a result of she needed to go away Scottsdale, Arizona, to reside close to the ocean after being identified with a number of sclerosis.
“We liked Maui; we liked the folks,” Lori Kunzelman instructed The Related Press, describing how her husband deliberate to repair up the home himself.
He was beginning to try this when the assault occurred, she mentioned.
“It was clearly a hate crime from the very starting,” she mentioned. “The entire time they’re saying issues like, ‘You’ve gotten the improper pores and skin colour. No ‘haole’ is ever going to reside in our neighborhood.’”
“Haole,” a Hawaiian phrase with meanings that embody foreigner and white particular person, is central to the case. It is a phrase typically misunderstood by individuals who do not comprehend Hawaii’s historical past of U.S. colonization and the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by a gaggle of American businessmen, mentioned Judy Rohrer, writer of a guide titled “Haoles in Hawai’i.”
White individuals who transfer to Hawaii are unaccustomed to being recognized racially and are “not used to enthusiastic about whiteness,” mentioned Rohrer, who grew up white in Hawaii and is now a professor at Japanese Washington College. “We’re used to being within the majority after which we get to Hawaii and unexpectedly we’re not within the majority, and that makes us uncomfortable.”
Of Hawaii’s 1.5 million residents, about 38% are Asian, 26% are white, 2% are Black, and many individuals are a number of ethnicities, based on U.S. census figures. Native Hawaiians account for about 20% of the inhabitants.
However it’s greater than racial, Rohrer mentioned, explaining how the Hawaiian phrase has change into a part of Hawaii Pidgin, the creole language of the islands, to explain conduct or attitudes not in sync with native tradition.
“Performing haole” means “appearing out of entitlement, and such as you personal the place,” she mentioned.
In video recorded by cameras on Kunzelman’s automobile parked underneath the home, just one racial utterance will be heard, protection attorneys mentioned. Aki is heard saying, “You’s a haole, eh.”
Kunzelman testified that what’s not audible within the video is the lads calling him “haole” in a derogatory method.
After the assault, Aki referred to Kunzelman to police as a “wealthy Haole man,” a “dumb haole,” and a “typical haole considering he proudly owning every part … attempting to vary issues up in Kahakuloa,” prosecutors mentioned.
Tiare Lawrence, a Native Hawaiian neighborhood advocate on Maui, mentioned she doesn’t condone the assault however is deeply acquainted with the tensions that permeate the case.
“The specter of outsiders coming in … brings loads of disappointment for Hawaiians who’re attempting so onerous to carry on to what little piece of paradise we have now left,” she mentioned. For example, she cited efforts to revitalize the Hawaiian language after it was banned in colleges within the wake of the overthrow.
Attorneys for Aki and Alo-Kaonohi say it wasn’t Kunzelman’s race that provoked them, however his entitled and disrespectful angle.
Kunzelman got here to the village saying he needed to assist residents enhance their houses and enhance property values, with out contemplating that greater property values include greater property taxes in a state with the best price of residing, the protection attorneys mentioned. However the tipping level got here when Kunzelman lower locks to village gates, they mentioned.
Kunzelman testified he did so as a result of residents had been locking him out and in. He testified that he needed to offer the village with higher locks and distribute keys to residents.
In a letter to the choose, Aki mentioned he does not see himself as racist: “Not solely as a result of I’m virtually half-Caucasian but additionally as a result of I’ve individuals who I like and care about who’re white.”
Each males had been prosecuted in state courtroom for the assault. Alo-Kaonohi pleaded no contest to felony assault and was sentenced to probation, whereas Aki pleaded no contest to terroristic threatening and was sentenced to probation and practically 200 days in jail.
Alo-Kaonohi was additionally sentenced to a yr in jail for an assault at a Maui bar quickly after the Kunzelman assault.
For the federal hate crime, prosecutors are asking for a sentence of about 9 years for Alo-Kaonohi and six-and-a-half years for Aki.
Lori Kunzelman acknowledged being unaware of Hawaiian historical past and mentioned she has since discovered about it.
“However attacking a person white man doesn’t change historical past or enhance issues or justify actions on anyone’s half,” she mentioned.
The Kunzelmans nonetheless personal the Kahakuloa house however break up their time between Arizona and Puerto Rico.
“We couldn’t even promote it to anyone as a result of it’s not protected,” Lori Kunzelman mentioned. “It’s not protected due to the animosity that’s there.”
In an try and convey the animosity, prosecutors through the trial portrayed village residents as saying issues like, “it is a Hawaiian village,” and “the one factor coming from the skin is electrical energy.”
However a number of non-Hawaiians who reside or have lived peacefully within the village instructed the AP they by no means had issues.
“I’m 82 years previous. I’ve lived right here for 50 years,” mentioned Bruce Turnbull, a white, retired trainer who lives close to Alo-Kaonohi’s household. “I’ve discovered in Hawaii, coming from the skin in, it’s a great factor to reside by the folks round you and never inform them to reside by you and your values.”
AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.