West Hawai‘i Protest Draws Hundreds Sunday
Protestors lined the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway bottleneck in the heart of Kailua-Kona Sunday afternoon, standing in solidarity with those across the country demonstrating against police violence and the killing of black and brown individuals while in police custody.
Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, more than 200 protestors created rows of slow-moving traffic on the stretch of road just south of the Henry Street intersection, accompanied by a symphony of supportive car horns and scores of signs decrying racism, injustice and police violence.
“We’re in a really unique position here where we’re a minority-majority state, so we don’t experience it the same way as a lot of the rest of America does, but I think it’s important to show up and show our support no matter what,” said Ashley Lake, of Kailua-Kona.
Protestors were technically in violation of COVID-19 measures, based on social distancing requirements set forth by an emergency proclamation from Gov. David Ige and adopted as part of the current Hawai‘i County policy. However, police made no arrests, wrote no citations, and gave no orders to disperse.
Nearly everyone lining the highway wore a face mask out of respect for current rules, and the Kailua-Kona protest was entirely peaceful — neither of which can be said for many demonstrations in mainland cities where violence and chaos have led to arson, looting, and police measures of crowd control that have included deploying tear gas and the firing of rubber bullets into groups of civilians. Reporters have also suffered through arrests and physical altercations with police in multiple instances.
State and federal authorities have voiced suspicions that most of the destruction and violence characterizing protests in cities like Minneapolis, Atlanta and New York can be attributed to a small group of people who have “infiltrated” the ranks of protestors with the intent to escalate tensions — namely members of white supremacist groups and far left-wing radical political organizations.
President Donald Trump painted state governors with a broad brush in a conference call Monday, calling them “weak” and telling them to “dominate” interactions with protestors, whom he referred to as “terrorists,” lest the state leaders look like “jerks” in the eyes of the public.
West Hawai‘i demonstrations were subject to no such drama Sunday, as protestors spoke loudly, but respectfully, for three gray afternoon hours.
Police did arrive on the scene after reports that protestors were blocking bike lanes. Reports from those in attendance varied on how many police vehicles arrived to the demonstration, with some estimating as few as six or seven and others saying it was as many as 12.
“The tone definitely shifted,” Lake said of the mood upon the arrival of police. “I don’t think anybody expected the cops to show up here. The tone always shifts when people in authority show up.”
Interactions between authorities and police were amicable, however, according to eye witness reports. All police vehicles had departed before, or as of, 3 p.m. Sunday.
“This is just how it is in Hawai‘i,” said Yvette Kay, an organizer with the Hawai‘i chapter of the activist group Matriarchy Rising. “We don’t do violent protests here. That’s just a difference in culture.”
Still, protestors in Kona said some of the outward expressions of anger seen on the mainland are understandable considering hundreds of years of racial oppression and discrimination, as well as a decades-long history of minorities dying in police custody. Derek Chauvin, one of four arresting officers, has been charged with 3rd Degree Murder and 2nd Degree Manslaughter in the death of 46-year-old George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
“I think it’s not surprising, given what’s happened,” Kona protestor Lianne Yu said of the volatile developments involving mainland protests. “I also think people are frustrated with nothing changing, and they’re frustrated by the message coming from the very top — the President not addressing what’s happening and blaming all others. We need leadership that will understand and fix the problem and get to the bottom of systemic racism in our country.”
Kay added that the context of COVID-19 has injected the situation with an infusion of frustration and helplessness surrounding more than 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States already, as well as a booming unemployment rate and stay-at-home orders that limited most aspects of life in parts of the country for months.
She, too, criticized federal leadership decisions, namely to focus on the looting and violence that’s occurred over the last week of protests instead of what protestors believe to be the heart of the problem — the racial injustice that fueled, and ultimately lit, the social powder keg now exploding nationwide and reverberating across three continents.
Big Island Now spoke to roughly a dozen protestors Sunday, but it remained unclear who specifically was responsible for organizing one of the largest protest turnouts in Kailua-Kona in years.
Everyone questioned said they were made aware of the demonstration via social media, typically on Instagram or Facebook, after news of the pending protest began making the rounds online during the middle of last week.
“I’m impressed with our little town for showing up as we have today,” Lake said. “I really think it’s a show of support and saying ‘not here,’ either.”