Trisha Kehaulani Watson: George Floyd's Death Brings Pain To Blacks And Hawaiians - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

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.


Civil Beat columnist Trisha Kehaulani Watson recently exchanged thoughts on the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the protests it ignited and the relationship between Native Hawaiian and blacks with Ken Lawson, who teaches criminal law at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law.

Trisha Kehaulani Watson: I’ll be honest, I couldn’t watch the entire George Floyd video. The moment he cried for his mom … honestly, just the idea of it now breaks me. I cried. I actually cry every time I even think about it. It makes me nauseous; it makes me enraged. It haunts me.

 My son is a big, brown kid. When I see that image of George Floyd, I see my son.

 I can’t imagine how it makes you feel.

Ken Lawson: I’ve fought for racial justice since high school, and I did a lot of civil rights cases where police shot and killed unarmed black men and women in the Midwest. Many of the killings led to mass protests, not totally unlike the protests we’re seeing today.

In April 2001, while I was representing the family of the 15th black man killed by the Cincinnati Police Department in a two-year period, there were four days of riots.

Yet, and I cannot explain why, what’s happened over the last several weeks with respect to the black community has really, really affected me. It’s been so hard to focus here as I want to be on the mainland protesting, but I can’t due to the travel restrictions and my teaching responsibilities, so I’ve done what I can, which for me has been protesting and educating people about the black community on social media.

The video of George Floyd being killed is traumatizing, more than I initially thought. I posted a picture of a close up of Mr. Floyd’s face with his eyes open, dying, while the officer kept his knee on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck.

I quoted what Muhammad Ali said when he refused to register for the draft to fight in the Vietnam war:

“You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese.
You my opposer when I want freedom.
You my opposer when I want justice.
You my opposer when I want equality.
Want me to go somewhere and fight for you?
You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs.
You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.”    — Muhammad Ali.

It was the first time I’ve ever cried while posting something on social media.

I was asked by several white people and a few blacks that I should consider removing it because it could re-traumatize the community. However, I remembered Emmett Till’s mother, who insisted on an open casket funeral for her son, because she wanted the world to see what those racist white men had done to her son. The nation needs to see what they did to our brother George Floyd.

Black Lives matter Peaceful Protest supporters arrive at the Duke Kahanamoku statue after marching from Ala Moana Beach.
For the last two days, thousands have joined peaceful protests throughout Hawaii triggered by the killing of George Floyd. On Friday, Black Lives Matter supporters arrive at the Duke Kahanamoku statue after marching from Ala Moana Beach Park. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But it’s not just George Floyd. Over the last few weeks, we watched Ahmuad Arbery, jogging on a Georgia street, chased by three white men like a runaway slave. Shot and killed when they tried to capture him.

Sister Breonna Taylor, a black EMT worker in Louisville, Kentucky, shot and killed in her own home when the police wrongly executed a no-knock search warrant at her home. A black man bird watching in Central Park when a white woman falsely calls the police on him, screaming into the phone that she was being attacked by an African American man — all because he asked her to put her dog on a leash.

George Floyd was lynched for the world to see on social media, and they had to think about whether or not to charge his killers with murder.

So many black men murdered. Too little justice.

So hell yeah, I’m angry, and if I could get to the mainland now and join the protest, I would, but I am teaching summer classes to future law students who can use their knowledge to help change the world. The hardest thing for me right now is being here and not being able to be there.

TKW: As a Hawaiian, and as a woman of color, I know I can empathize with what so many people are experiencing right now across the United States, but I cannot fully identify with the black American experience. I don’t know that pain. I don’t know that trauma, or that long, anguishing historical trauma.

And I think that’s a really important point – Hawaiians, as people who are also marginalized and oppressed, have an opportunity to play a supporting role here. I think it’s hard for many people to know exactly what that role should be, but it is important to first and foremost acknowledge that it is a supporting role.

KL: For me, what’s hurtful is when some tell me how we should feel, or we are doing it wrong. Black folks were taken from their land of Africa, brought to this country as property, and underwent brutal, brutal slavery for 400 years. The slave masters raped our women, and we were forced to take the names of our slave masters and cut off from our culture. It was a crime to teach us to read. We were property.

After slavery, the KKK was formed, and there were mass lynchings. Then Jim Crow segregation; separate but inferior schools; sitting on the back of the bus; denied jobs or equal pay because of the color of our skin; and police killing without consequences. Despite the civil rights movement, we are still being killed in the streets. Not much has changed.

So when Muhammad Ali refused to fight, when Jackie Robinson refused to stand for the national anthem, when John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood up with black gloves, raising the black fist, and James Brown sang, “I’m black and I’m proud,” we finally started to feel some hope.

Ken Lawson, a UH law school teacher, said the “hardest thing” for him right now is not being able to join the protests on the mainland. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But the police brutality and killing unarmed black folks continued, as well as the severe economic disparity in our community.

When the cops in L.A. were caught on tape beating the hell out of Rodney King, we thought, “wow, now do you all see what we been telling you? We have been the target of excessive force by the police for decades but no one gave it much thought.”

We believed justice would finally be served, so we waited for the trial. Hell, it’s on tape for the world to see. No need to riot. The justice system will get it right. Then the not-guilty verdict. Riots.

TKW: I’ve been incredibly embarrassed by some comments on social media criticizing people on the continent for how they are protesting. Even worse, I’ve seen the concept of “kapu aloha,” a means of peaceful nonviolent resistance that emerged from the movement to protect Maunakea, used really as a weapon against black people, including yourself, to criticize the actions taking place in cities across the U.S. Shame on any of us Hawaiians who have used our culture or our own experiences as a weapon against oppressed people. That’s not Hawaiian.

On behalf of any of my own people who have not been supportive or have been hurtful, I’m very sorry.

KL: No apology necessary. We grow by learning from one another as we move forward in our battle for racial and cultural equality. You know, I don’t know what it’s like to be Native Hawaiian, but I do know what it feels like to be oppressed. Yet, for me, it would be insulting, and even untrue for me to tell any Native Hawaiian, “I know how you feel.”

It minimizes the pain and experience. You are Native Hawaiian every day, all day and no matter where you go or what you do — that will never change.

Our history, our spirituality, our very souls are connected to where we originate from, and we are all deeply connected to our ancestors going back to the beginning of time. So, no, my dear sister, I don’t know how you feel, but nevertheless I am your brother, and even if I don’t know a lot of Native Hawaiians, I see you and your people hurting from the oppression and unjust ways in which Native Hawaiians are treated on their very own land which was taken from them.

When I saw the real, deep pain that you feel, it makes me hurt for you and your people. That hurt compels me, as a man who loves justice for all people, to help in any way I can. Although I’ve been involved in civil rights for years, I don’t tell the Native Hawaiian community how they should protect the Mauna (Kea). Rather, I simply ask: how can I help you fight the power?

The first thing I was taught was the meaning of kapu aloha and the importance of maintaining kapu aloha at all times on and off the Mauna as it relates to protecting the Mauna. I made numerous trips to the Mauna even after being warned not to go by own university. I was asked to teach classes and I used my platform on social media to shine light on the State’s and TMT’s never-ending attempt to gaslight the public into believing that the majority of people want TMT built.

That being said, when I’ve been involved in civil rights protests against police brutality and racial injustice on the mainland, I was always a Malcolm X man. I admired Dr. King and his methods, but I had relatives in the Black Panthers.

I believe in non-violent protest, but I also believe in self defense. I do not believe in looting, but I have been in protests where police cars were set on fires and other damage happened. It got the attention of the government, the local businesses that control the government, and it made a difference.

Everyone wants to talk about Dr. King’s non-violent “turn the other cheek” approach, but right before King was killed, even he questioned how effective those methods were. After King was killed on April 4, 1968, this country went up in smoke with riots.

Seven days later, on April 11, 1968, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was enacted.

Our protests are not your protests, but they all seek the same justice. We fight the same injustice. We rage against the same evils, the same hate.

And as I know that, I also know that we can share in the same hope, the same future of a better tomorrow, and the same will to bring about a better world where all of us, regardless of culture or race, can enjoy the same opportunities and liberties that each of us as human beings so rightfully deserve.


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About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

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.


Latest Comments (0)

As for the Black Lives Matter Movement I fully support the "cause" and bare in mind that the "cause" was "caused" by the powers that be, not the people! The "moral" of the story in the BLM (putting everthing else aside i.e: looting, burning business, etc.) is that it’s wrong and inhumane-call this the "cause" that "caused" the "cause" . 

GoldenRuleUpholder · 1 year ago

· 1 year ago

· 1 year ago

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