Some brought their kids. Others marched in pairs, in groups, with siblings, partners or alone. Most everyone wore a mask, and held a sign written on poster board or pieces of cardboard re-fashioned out of old Amazon boxes or Whole Foods pizza boxes.
Their signs bore messages like “Racism is a pandemic too”; “I can’t breathe”; “End police brutality” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Thousands of people swelled onto the lawn in front of Ala Moana Beach Park around noon to begin the energized yet orderly 1.5 mile walk to the Hawaii State Capitol, where youth organizers addressed the crowd.
The Honolulu Police Department estimated the initial crowd in the morning was about 2,000, but swelled to around 10,000 in the afternoon, according to Hawaii News Now.
The march in Honolulu Saturday, and a smaller one that took place a day before in Waikiki, were organized by Hawaii for Black Lives, a youth-led group founded by teens from Radford High and other Hawaii high schools.
The overall message was unifying: change must happen.
Similar, if smaller, protests took place on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island on Saturday, HNN reported.
The Hawaii protests also coincided with many other marches taking place around the country this weekend in U.S. cities large and small. The protests were catalyzed by the brutal death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, as well as other black lives cut violently short.
With many drivers pressing their car horns in support, some with one hand on the wheel and the other photographing the crowds with camera phones outside their windows and sun roofs, the mood was upbeat. Despite rumors swirling online in preceding days that outside groups would try to infiltrate the march, there were no arrests or reported incidents.
Participants sporadically broke out into chants like “Go peace” and “Black Lives Matter” during the march, their cheers getting louder as passing cars honked their horns in support.
Cops assigned to monitor the crowds and prevent marchers from spilling too much into the streets were deferential.
“I have no problem with any of this,” said a 29-year-old HPD officer who declined to give his name. Stationed at the intersection of Piikoi Street and Kapiolani Boulevard, he said he chose to go into policing because he grew up here and appreciates the people of Hawaii.
“It hurts us, it really does, it hurts the good that we try to do,” he said of killings by cops of black people or other persons of color in other cities or violent clashes with protesters elsewhere.
“Because (Hawaii is) so small, everybody knows somebody. Being directly connected to the community, you can’t just run away and go to another state. We live here, too.”
Nikkya Taliaferro, a rising senior at Moanalua High School and one of the co-organizers of Hawaii for Black Lives, revved up the crowd at the Capitol. But first, as she stood up and took in the sea of faces before her, she paused as if overcome.
“I just want to say … wow. We never expected this amount of people to come out and support us.”
“My humanity should not be a protest. My humanity should not be debated. I should not have to be up here telling people that black lives matter, that black people should not be killed.”
The crowds Saturday in Honolulu were diverse and mostly younger. It wasn’t lost upon some older participants that this is a new era of protest spurred by the energy of young people.
Robert Steele, 76, a retired psychology professor, sat with his wife, Jean, on a ledge a few blocks from the Capitol toward the tail end of the march. A graduate of Morehouse College, a historically black men’s college in Atlanta, he had protested in that city during the Civil Rights era to support desegregating restaurants.
“One of the unique things not only here but nationally or internationally is how they hold a demonstration. The whole movement is so ethnically diverse. In fact, the majority of participants are people of color, which is so gratifying,” he said.
“One of the things I was pleased with is that people who organized the event also made it possible for people to register to vote,” he added.
Renee Bull, 27, marched with her brother, Jeremiah, 24. They moved to Hawaii a year ago from Delaware because of his posting in the military.
“It’s bigger than George Floyd, I think it always has been,” said Renee Bull, who lives in Mililani, of the protests taking place around the U.S. “If you’re black in this country, you know how hard we’ve been fighting and it won’t stop until we show up and continue to dismantle white supremacy.”
Her brother, Jeremiah, said even coming to a place like Hawaii where there are fewer reported cases of police brutality and less perception of racism because of its ethnic diversity, said he still flinches when he drives past a cop.
“I still look at my rearview mirror to see if they’re following me,” he said. “It’s like a trauma.”
Asked what can change first, he replied that it’s the education of young people, starting with curriculum in schools to more deeply expose people to the past racial injustices in the U.S.
“What we learn is what we live by. It comes from nurturing, it comes a lot from teachers,” he said.
On Kauai, two markedly different protests dominated the island Saturday morning and well into the afternoon.
More than 300 people on surfboards paddled out to form a huge circle in Hanalei Bay to call attention to the dual problems of racism and police abuse. The crowd launched from Black Pot Beach after listening to a series of speakers.
About an hour after the paddle out, more than 1,000 demonstrators took to streets around the historic County Building in Lihue in a loud and intense, but peaceful, protest that drew a multiracial crowd lining both sides of Rice Street.
Nearly everyone wore masks. At one point, hundreds dropped to one knee.
A half dozen Kauai Police Department officers observed the protest discreetly from a distance, while Chief Todd Raybuck and Rod Green, the captain who supervises the department’s patrol division, mingled and chatted with the crowd.
Raybuck summed up his feelings by saying “our community is for unity.” He had earlier broadcast the Hanalei paddle-out live via Facebook.
One protestor held a surfboard aloft with “Black Lives Matter” scrawled on it while participants chanted, “I can’t breathe.”
By early afternoon, vehicle caravans were driving through the area in both directions, including pickups with several people holding signs sitting in the beds. One man danced in the bed of a pickup then suddenly started hurling handfuls of $1 bills onto the street, which demonstrators quickly picked up.
And Jim Taylor, an African-American who lives in Kilauea appeared pushing his walker, saying he had come because “black lives matter, even with a walker.”
Civil Beat correspondent Allan Parachini contributed to this report from Kauai.
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