Hawaii’s criminal justice system isn’t immune to racial bias and the Judiciary is committed to addressing that racial inequity, Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald said Friday.

He spoke at a Zoom webinar, the first of a series of free virtual panels the Judiciary is hosting along with the Hawaii State Bar Association about achieving racial equity in Hawaii. Friday’s event focused on Black Lives Matter in Hawaii.

“Over the summer, I watched the images of George Floyd’s death with horror and dismay,” Recktenwald said, noting that both nationally and in Hawaii, “barriers to justice have been built into systems, both knowingly and unknowingly.”

Kristen Brown, the Hawaii National Association for the Advancement of Colored People youth chair, bottom, speaks at a Judiciary webinar about Black Lives Matter in Hawaii. Screenshot/2021

Recktenwald said the Judiciary has sought to address systemic injustice through efforts like pretrial reform and traffic fines and fees reform, and said the webinar series builds upon that ongoing work.

His comments come seven months after Floyd’s death inspired thousands of Hawaii residents to march to the State Capitol in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

Friday’s panel featured Kristen Brown, the Hawaii NAACP youth chair, who helped organize last summer’s march, and Akiemi Glenn, who leads the Popolo Project, a nonprofit dedicated to telling stories of the Black community in Hawaii.

Glenn noted that the Popolo Project created a syllabus to help people understand the history and context of Black people’s experiences in Hawaii.

The event also featured Kamaile Maldonado from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Josie Howard from We Are Oceania and included a discussion of the similarities between Black, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander experiences in Hawaii.

Black people are disproportionately incarcerated nationally, including in Hawaii. Maldonado noted that 40% of incarcerated people in Hawaii are Native Hawaiian, and they are also less likely to get parole.

“Native Hawaiians are being disproportionately punished for essentially the same crimes, and that is increasing at every level,” she said, noting that OHA plans to release a report this year on criminal justice disparities.

She said acknowledging racism is particularly important in Hawaii, where “we have a generally accepted idea among our policymakers that we don’t really have a race problem. We hear that all the time,” she said.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard last summer said she thinks there’s less implicit bias in Hawaii and said she hoped the nationwide reform movement would skip Hawaii.

The next event is on Jan. 29. Click here to learn more.

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