I don’t remember locking doors as a kid. Or even closing them. Our house was constantly open, windows, doors, bedroom doors. We left things open, often because it was hot, but also because we often had visitors come to the house.
It wasn’t uncommon for people to approach from outside, often calling, “Huuuuuuuuiiiii!” The universal call signal for announcing oneself in Hawaii.
Even as a young adult, when we arrived at my grandparents’ house or if I was visiting someone, I would call out, “Huuuuuuuiiiii!” Some of my family members still do it, but it’s rare today.
A perceived crime wave on Oahu has residents locking their doors and installing security cameras.
Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat
People are locking themselves up inside their homes. Not only at night, but during the day. Hawaii has become the kind of place where people don’t even feel safe in their own homes in the bright light of day.
Innocent people are getting robbed, mugged, shot.
I can’t even begin to comprehend this level of violence, especially these shootings, which seem to be happening almost daily. These are things that happen somewhere else. Not in Hawaii. Not in these islands. This kind of violence just isn’t who we are. And I honestly can’t make any sense of it.
I suddenly find myself worrying when my mother goes to the grocery store alone. I’ve never once in my life worried about my mother’s safety. Yet, I am completely mortified by the seemingly random attacks on our kupuna.
Among the many violent attacks that have taken place this year are the shocking death of 85-year-old Dolores Corpus, who died this past July after 16-year-old Saikit Denny Saingo snatched her purse and threw her to the ground as she and her husband were on their routine walk around their block.
Gloria Takaoka, 71 years old, was just standing outside her apartment when she was shot by a neighbor.
Is this really what we’ve become? A place where people can’t even take a walk around their block? Or stand outside their front door?
Living in Hawaii is not like living in other places. There is a long-unspoken rule about the need to treat each other well. Our islands are vulnerable. We are the most isolated population on Earth. When disaster strikes, and it always inevitably does, we only have each other.
Community resilience is a necessity here. We need to know our neighbors. We need to be active in our communities. Neighborhood watches are not just about preventing crime; they are about building community and relationships with the people who live around us.
We can’t build that resilience if we’re prisoners in our own homes.
It is a shameful burden to place the need for so much vigilance on residents and visitors. We shouldn’t all have to own security systems. We shouldn’t have to buy security cameras and motion detectors. This must not become our normal.
Crime should be the exception — not the rule.
For centuries, Ke Kanawai Mamalahoe, the law of the splintered paddle, has been the law. From its origins during the reign of Kamehameha I through its inclusion in the Hawaii State Constitution through Article IX, Section 10, this has been our collective obligation to all those who pass through these islands.
The Hawaii State Constitution reads: “Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety – shall be a unique and living symbol of the State’s concern for public safety.”
This crime wave is not just a violation of law in the western sense, but a violation of the very tenets of our culture and our community. The effort to restore public safety should be swift and overwhelming, and enforcement should be as severe as when Kamehameha first declared this edict in the 18th century.
For if we cannot even protect the most vulnerable among us, we not only fail on cultural and social levels, but we abjectly fail on a moral level as well.
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Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.