Hundreds braved the brutal midday sun Tuesday, holding signs, waving and chanting adjacent to Waiakea Center in Hilo while passing drivers on Kanoelehua Avenue sounded their horns almost incessantly.
Chants including “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and “hands up, don’t shoot” competed with the cacophony of car horns, while signs bore slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “Silence is Violence.”
“This is the biggest gathering that I have seen here since we have lived here, 17 years,” said a protester who declined to identify herself, other than to say she works at a public charter school in Hilo.
The line of protesters stretched from the roadside next to Walgreens to beyond the Ross Dress for Less store. The sizable turnout, prompted by social media, was for a peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes — and almost three minutes after Floyd went unconscious — during an arrest May 25.
At the Hilo rally, Matty Malone held a sign reading “Kap was right” — referring to Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who drew the ire of much of white America, including President Donald Trump, for publicly kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games to protest institutional racism and violence against people of color.
“Even though we will never understand the pain, black lives is what we should focus on at the moment. I want them to understand that we’re all the same to me,” Malone said. “Not everyone thinks that way, but we’re raising our children to think that way.”
Malone agreed that protests in Hawaii should be peaceful but said he’s “not here to judge” how protests have been conducted elsewhere.
“I’m not there, getting hit by the police with tear gas and rubber bullets. It’s not my place to judge,” he said. “It’s my place to stand and share aloha and love. And if enough people start to talk about that, maybe there will be some change.”
A woman who identified herself simply as Ilohia said she’s “standing up for humanity and equality for all people.”
“Hawaiians fight for land, and (African-Americans) are fighting for their lives,” she said. “I’ve never been discriminated against, so I don’t understand what it feels like to have the color of my skin judged. But I stand with them in solidarity.”
Malone’s partner, Tiana Malone Jennings, also compared the current protests to issues faced by Native Hawaiians, especially those who have, so far, successfully protested against the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea.
“We need to stand right now when black lives matter as we stand when Maunakea matters,” Malone Jennings said. “Everybody stood with us when we were standing up for the mauna. So, of course, we support all of our brothers and sisters of planet Earth. When all life matters, black life matters equally.”
Another woman, who said her name is Noel, said she was there “because I’m Hawaiian, and this is exactly what we do.”
“We stand for peace in everything,” Noel said. “We fought for our lands, and we fought for our rights, and we’re still fighting. But when something like this happens, it doesn’t matter what else is going on. This is what we do.
“All lives don’t matter until black lives matter, because, right now, that’s what we have to deal with.”
Video of the Minneapolis incident taken by an onlooker went viral on social media last week, sparking protests nationwide. While many of those protests were peaceful, others became violent, with buildings burned and businesses looted. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in some cities, including Washington, D.C.
The cop accused of Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers, who held bystanders at bay during the incident, also have been fired, but hadn’t been charged with a criminal act as of Tuesday. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said prosecutors are investigating to determine if they also would be charged.
Floyd could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” while Chauvin kneeled on his neck.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.