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Chauvin Verdict Sparks Conversations in Hawai?i on Use of Lethal Force, Racial Bias in Policing

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AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Demonstrators gather outside Cup Food on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis after the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

The conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd is stoking discussions locally on the use of force and the role of racial bias in policing Hawai?i’s communities of color.

Justice was not the first word that came to mind when Akiemi Glenn heard the guilty verdict in the case of ex-cop Derek Chauvin. Glenn is the Executive Director of the P?polo Project, a local non-profit aiming to redefine what it means to be black in Hawai?i.

“I've seen people saying that this is an example of justice, but justice would have been Mr. Floyd still being alive. This is an example of accountability,” says Glenn, “And so the question of where we go from here, I think really has to do with how we engage with the systems that allowed for the killing to take place in the first place.”

The use of lethal force and the role of racial bias in policing has garnered a lot more local attention recently after Honolulu Police officers shot and killed 16-year-old Micronesian teen Iremamber Sykap and 29-year-old South African man Lindani Miyeni. Both were unarmed.

“One of the things that happened in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder here in Hawai?i was that people started engaging in this discourse that said we don't have those problems here,” says Glenn, “And I think these recent police killings show us that we do.”

According to the Honolulu Police Department, Sykap was shot following an alleged crime spree and Miyeni was shot after being suspected of burglary.

But Wookie Kim, Legal Director for the ACLU Hawai?i, says part of the problem is that HPD officers are trained with a “warrior-like” mentality.

“This mentality of using this more aggressive, dangerous approach is more common and disproportionately impacts people who are black, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander and other people of color,” says Kim.

HPD data on the use of force shows Hawai’i’s Black community was the subject of about 7% of the department’s use-of-force incidents annually for the past 10 years, even though they make up just 2% of the state population. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were the subject of 33% of HPD use-of-force incidents in 2018, even though they make up about 10% of the state.

“Ultimately, it sort of comes down to the question of were these uses of deadly force in the two incidents were they justified under the circumstances?” says Kim.

The answer to that question could take months according to HPD’s timeline for the investigation. UH Law Professor Ken Lawson is skeptical of any investigation provided by HPD and is urging the federal government to intervene.

“I truly do think that with everything going on in our police department that the feds need to investigate the use of force policies, the training, and make recommendations,” says Lawson.

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