We Call for Abolition in Hawaiʻi

By Noelle Kakimoto, Leilani Maxera, and Laurel Mei-Singh – Views

Black Lives Matter protesters have taken to the streets across the world to demand justice for lives stolen by police violence, with the rallying cry to defund the police. Many, including us, call to defund the police as a step toward abolition.

The abolition movement emerged during struggles against slavery, and we point to WEB Du Bois’s call for “abolition democracy” as one origin of today’s uprisings. Abolition democracy aspires to restructure society to abolish racism in all forms. Today’s abolition movements demand investment in programs that support well-being, including public health, education, and housing as lasting alternatives to police, prisons, and all mechanisms of punishment. It requires justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and every person harmed by state violence in the United States and in Hawaiʻi.

While abolition calls for the transformation of many institutions of oppression, we focus on policing because this aspect of the Prison Industrial Complex stands in the foreground of public discourse today. Slave patrols, which sought to catch runaway slaves and crush uprisings, acted as an early iteration of police. We cannot reform a system rooted in oppression; we must dismantle inherently racist institutions and demand more. While a reduction in police violence is a step in the right direction, we call for a reimagining these very systems.

Policing is not a magic bullet for society’s problems, and often even puts us in danger. Recent protests shined a spotlight on police via social media and news stations, and, even with the world watching, police officers attacked people in places that include Louisville, Kentucky, Buffalo, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia. A few “bad apples” do not perpetuate police brutality–the problem is systemic, with killer cops receiving support from coworkers and unions.

Many Hawaiʻi residents hold affinity for the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) because we are more likely to have family and friends in uniform. A recent Civil Beat Op-Ed expresses that institutionalized racism does not pervade HPD as it does in the continental US . However, Hawaiʻi is not miraculously immune to police violence; rather, we are kept in the dark about most police assaults and murders. Civil Beat also reports that HPD’s annual use of force reports often redact police killings, and the lack of reliable information clouds efforts to make meaningful reforms.

HPD has, in fact, killed 29 people in the past decade, and this is 29 too many. A 2016 count showed that Hawai’i has the 13th highest rate of police killings in the US. These numbers leave out countless others assaulted by HPD, including acts of humiliation and emotional trauma.

HPD also actively worked against Kānaka Maoli during the Mauna Kea, Hūnananiho, and Kahuku protests as the lāhui organized to protect wahi kapu. HPD officers utilized military gear such as Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) and arrested kānaka, including kūpuna, at these sites. Even if family members and friends straddled lines between kia‘i and officers, the arrests, slicing of hae Hawaiʻi, and tearing down of sacred spaces signify acts of violence against Hawaiians. Kānaka often cannot freely protect places on their own ʻāina without the threat of police violence. Sovereignty and abolition go hand in hand. People are already enacting abolition by fulfilling collective responsibility for the stewardship of shared resources and opening paths for young people that offer alternatives to joining the police force.

The proposed City and County of Honolulu’s 2020 Fiscal Budget shows that HPD received almost $302 million this year, making it the third highest departmental expenditure, and their responsibilities include citing and displacing houseless people. Compare the policing budget to the Community Services department–funding homeless services such as providers, outreach, hygiene centers, and more–while receiving less than $115 million. Hawaiʻi has the second largest homeless population per capita in the United States. What could we do for people with unstable housing if we reallocated policing funds to resources such as healthcare, job access, education, housing, mental health resources, and addiction rehabilitation?

In the words of abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Abolition is about abolishing the conditions under which prisons [and police] became the solution to problems rather than abolishing the buildings we call prisons.” We need to transform our reliance on law enforcement as a solution to society’s problems. As abolitionists, we envision a world where everyone is safe, cared for, and provided with the resources they need to live fruitful lives.

Abolition works toward fixing harm instead of settling on the current reality that locks people in cages and where we are not safe from those we are told “protect” us. We all want to be safe and secure, but cops do not satisfy these needs. Let us ask ourselves, what could abolition look like in Hawaiʻi? What do we need to create it?

A better world is possible. In fact, she is already on her way.


Noelle Kakimoto is an abolitionist, writer, and legal clerk. She blogs about sports and criminal justice at thisisnoelle.com.

Leilani Maxera is a long-time abolitionist, harm reductionist, and death educator. She currently serves as the Outreach & Overdose Prevention Manager at Hawai’i Health & Harm Reduction Center. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the views of her agency.

Laurel Mei-Singh is an Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and serves on the board of Hawai‘i Peace and Justice.

[Photo: Derek Scarlino / Love and Rage Media]

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