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Open Letter by School Administrator Chronicles Brawl, Asks Community to Help Fix What Caused it

By Tom Hasslinger
February 1, 2022, 5:00 PM HST
* Updated February 2, 2:27 PM
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In an open letter to the community, a Pāhoa High and Intermediate School vice principal described last week’s fight at his school where seven students were arrested and 20 suspended as a sad, unfortunate event triggered by racial epithets toward a group of kids being made to felt as though they did not belong.

At not point during the “melee” on Wednesday, Jan. 25 that forced the school into a lockdown around 10:20 a.m. did Brandon Gallagher, the school’s vice principal who wrote the letter in his individual capacity and not as a representative of the school, felt he was unsafe.

“As I have been someone who has continuously worked with our students from this disenfranchised community with love, not one student attacked me during the melee,” Gallagher wrote in a letter over the weekend shared with several statewide news outlets, Big Island Now included. “My experience was not unique and was the experience of almost all of our staff who were outside helping during the situation. I stood in front of students whose fists were raised and mouths calling out for fights and was able to come into contact with them to remove them from other people and away from areas without ever being retaliated against.”

The state Department of Education confirmed last week that the fight was instigated by racially insensitive remarks. The school’s security guard, who was injured during the incident, was taken to the hospital where he was treated and released the same day. 

Of the seven arrested, one was of adult age. The adult male, identified as 18-year-old Advin Nakashima, was charged with second-degree assault on a school official and his bail was set at $2,000. Nakashima, who didn’t respond to a Facebook message seeking comment, posted bail, according to the County of Hawai‘i Prosecutor’s Office. His initial appearance is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 24 in Hilo District Court.

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Police also arrested four juvenile male students, ages 13-17, for assault on a school official; and two juvenile female students, ages 16-17, for disorderly conduct.

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Gallagher stated in the letter that the students were full of anger from being called “cockroaches” online. He stated in the letter that his intent was not to absolve anyone from anything, but to give the community context for how something like what happened could transpire.

“Now imagine for a moment you are part of a community in Hawai‘i where people commonly refer to you, your family, neighbors and anyone else easily identified by look, clothing, and language, as ‘cockroaches’ or other racially motivated epithets,” he wrote. “Not only would your developing sense of identity be stained by other people’s hatred toward you, but the messaging in your community would seem to support that you do not belong here.”

It was in this context, Gallagher wrote, that the large group of students were moving around campus “in an angry and charged up state of mind.”

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The lockdown on campus was called quickly and the majority of students followed directions and stayed safely in classrooms, he explained, when the fight erupted.

“The feeling in that moment and after was not one of fear or anger toward these students, it was a feeling of profound sadness for what was happening and would happen to these students. Sadness for how the actions of this day, which were driven by the words of other people, would help to solidify the negative views of Pāhoa kids, children of poverty, our community, but most sadly, the cultural community these students come from,” Gallagher wrote.

Hawai‘i Police Chief Paul Paul K. Ferreira told Big Island Now that the school resource officer handled the situation well with the assistance of school officials and other patrol officers who responded. 

SROs are not stationed  at all schools on Hawai`i Island. There are eight SROs stationed at Hilo Intermediate, Waiākea Elementary, Honoka‘a Elementary, Kea‘au Middle School, Pāhoa, Konawaena Middle School, Kealakehe Middle School and Waimea Middle School.

Gallagher didn’t return a phone call or email Tuesday seeking comment. He’s listed as the intermediate school’s vice principal on the school’s website. He said he was sorry to see someone suffer physical injuries as a result of the fight and joined the community in hoping to never have to see such things again. He wrote he hopes the island can find lessons from the incident and work to correct the issues that led to the division.

“The only fear I have is that we will fail to address the societal norms which placed these children in a state of hopelessness. Hopelessness which is so severe that they railed against anyone who they saw as another person holding them down for being alive in Hawai’i,” he wrote. “These children are bearing and will continue to bear the consequences of their actions. However, we all bear responsibility on a daily basis for creating a world where children don’t see lashing out as the only viable option. This problem will not be solved by lashing out at children nor the communities they come from. This problem will be solved when we, as a community, continue to find meaningful ways of lifting each other up across this beautiful home we share in the most remote island chain in the world. Together we can and will change the narrative for the better.”

 

 

 

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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