Friday, February 27, 2015

Still Trying to Out the Police

            The ancient Roman poet Juvenal seldom comes up in everyday conversation these days. Yet his line—quis custodiet ipsos custodes—could easily be the rallying cry in support of a new piece of legislation this session.
            The bill has revived an old conflict pitting journalists’ insistence on the right to know against the privacy rights of the police.
About twenty years ago the Society of Professional Journalists wrote to the chief of police at the Honolulu Police Department. The SPJ wanted information about officers who had been suspended or discharged, the nature of their misconduct, and the kind of action taken against them. The chief responded that the request was not specific enough and that if it was willing to pay for the time for personnel to search and compile the information, the department would disclose. The estimated cost came to $20,000. The SPJ limited its request, but the chief never responded.
            Instead the department alerted the police officer’s union, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officer (SHOPO), and everyone sued each other.
            At one point, things came to a head before the late great Judge John Lim. Judge Lim’s courtroom was packed to the gills with uniformed officers standing arm in arm. It was an intimidating sight to see all of the officers in solidarity against the SPJ and disclosure.
            Judge Lim spoke for fifteen minutes without notes when he announced his ruling. For those who were there, it was one of those “chicken skin” moments in the courtroom. Judge Lim extolled about the state and federal constitutions, and ultimately addressed the officers standing before him:
Underlying all of those protections against that government and that police power is the people’s right to know. How do you exercise your rights against the government unless you know what the government is doing?
“Having said that, is it not paradoxical that the United State of America has the finest police force in the world? We, who as a people so profoundly mistrust government and its attendant police power, have the finest police force in the world.”
He ruled for the SPJ: “The public has a right to know, and therefore it does know and because it knows it insists that its police officers be educated. . . . And the reason that you, ladies and gentlemen of the Honolulu Police Department, are such professionals, so effective, such an asset to our community, is just because the public has a right to know, and because they have a right to know, they insist that you be excellent.”
            The police didn’t see it that way. They took it up on appeal, but lost. The victory for the SPJ, however, was a pyrrhic one. The Legislature amended the law and exempted police officer disciplinary records from public disclosure. In other words, whether a police officer got into trouble and was disciplined by his or her department became off limits. It could not be disclosed.
            And that’s how it’s been for the last twenty years. The police departments would issue reports to the Legislature about nameless officers who were disciplined, but no one knew who they were. Sometimes a few stories would surface in the paper about it, but without names and details, it didn’t make for a good read.
            That could all change this year. The bill repeals the exemption for police officers and subjects them—like any other public employee—to public disclosure when they are disciplined and punished for misconduct. Standing in support of the bill is obviously the SPJ, but this time around they have new allies.
            The League of Women Voters and the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and advocates against domestic violence have pointed out that in some cases, the discipline of an officer who was smoking marijuana is much more severe than another officer who has engaged in domestic violence of an ex-wife or former girlfriend. The discrepancies are reported to the Legislature without revealing their names. Public disclosure, according to these groups, will help keep the police department more accountable and less tolerant of domestic violence.
So far there has been only one group in opposition to the bill: SHOPO. The union argued in written testimony that disclosure would impact the officers and their families and although other employees are not exempt from disclosure, seldom does it arise to the level of newsworthiness.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a conference on the bill this morning. It should be expected that the police officer’s union will strongly oppose the bill. Perhaps this morning would be a good time for supporters of the bill to translate the ancient Roman poet: “who will police the police?”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Kahoolawe: a Penal Colony?

          You can see it on Mokulele Highway Near the half-way point between Central Maui and South Maui among the cane fields it comes into view even though you can’t make out the ocean yet.  It is the barren, dry, and brown island of Kahoolawe. The island shimmers in the leeward heat and peaks above the green cane fields.
            The island can be seen from just about any point in Kihei and parts of the road to Lahaina. It serves as a mysterious backdrop to the vistas and views of lavish hotels, homes, golf courses, and condominiums in Wailea. On the beach at Makena you’re confronted with it head on. The large cliffs and white caps shimmer in the distance.
            This little island (it’s the smallest of the eight major Hawaiian Islands) has remained uninhabited for as long as I could remember. In fact, generations have gone without anyone remembering when a sustainable population lived on the island.
            Although its brown hills, red summits, and golden sand beaches look unchanged over the years, the island has had a colorful history. It should be no surprise to anyone that the first folks to use the island were the Native Hawaiians. The remnants of fishing villages, heiau, and other altars have been discovered again. It is also believed that the island served as a training ground for navigators who were able to sail thousands of miles to the South Pacific.
But even then the island was a faraway place that could never support a permanent population. Water was scarce and it was terribly isolated. Kahoolaweans periodically left the island and headed to Maui during the rainy winter months.
            These harsh features proved to be a worthy place for a grand experiment in Hawaii’s early criminal justice system. For nearly thirty years the hot and barren island was a penal colony for the kingdom’s offenders.
            The venture started with Queen Kaahumanu after she came into power during the early days of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Influenced by missionaries, the queen converted to Christianity and adopted a moral code of behavior for herself and the rest of her subjects. Along with a group of chiefs, Queen Kaahumanu agreed that Kahoolawe would be a place of exile. If offenders violated the new laws, off they went. Shipping an offender out to some distant and isolated place was a new alternative to the traditional punishment of death or in some cases no punishment at all.
In 1824, Kahoolawe became the place to send transgressors of her newly-initiated code of conduct. A few years later, the criminal laws were refined so that exile to the island was reserved for certain offenses like adultery and prostitution. Exile was often announced, but seldom carried out.
It took two years after the change in the law to actually send prisoners there. The first two—a prostitute and a thief—were sent out in 1826. The conditions of their confinement and how they carried out their sentence once they got there are lost to history.
Others followed. At first both male and female offenders were sent out there. Adulterers, prostitutes, rum runners, and thieves apparently made a home for themselves until women were shipped to Lanai instead by the 1840s.
Things changed when a high-ranking chief named Kinimaka was exiled to the island for after he had been convicted of forging a will. The will proved to be quite important since it devised a great deal of lands on Maui. Kinimaka was like a celebrity and exiling him to the island made him the chief of Kahoolawe. Kinimaka soon had a fleet of boats, a thriving village, and ordered inmates swim to Maui to gather supplies and food. So much for punishment.
Kamehameha III later declared clemency to the Kahoolawe prisoners. Kinimaka and the others left the island and went to their respective homes. Still, the island remained a penal colony for the kingdom. Offenders were sent there until it was abandoned all together in 1851 and the kingdom started a different form of punishment that remains part of our system to this day: prison.
Although the penal colony experiment was never revived in the islands again, Kahoolawe remained a lonesome little island. Nothing remains of the penal villages anymore. Other major events took over the island and to this day it is still inaccessible for most of us.

Nowadays it would seem laughable to revive the idea of a penal colony. But why not? We have prisons in the heart of Oahu and for more than ten years we send offenders to private prisons on the mainland. Lawsuits from inmates have sparked in response to the denial of what the inmates call a violation of their traditional rights as Native Hawaiians. Perhaps a prison on Kahoolawe isn’t so far-fetched.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hawaii's Long-Time Love Affair with Booze

Hawaii has a long love affair with booze. It started with the Polynesian explorers who came to the islands brought with them plants from home. Along with kalo and coconuts their canoes carried an unassuming shrub with heart-shaped leaves: awa.
Hawaiians take the awa root and pulverized it and mix it with water. It had a relaxing and mellowing effect. Apparently it also caused red, watery eyes. Early accounts from foreigners report that awa drinkers had drooping, red eyes all day long.
By the time Captain Cook came around in 1778, Hawaiians had a culture around the plant. Awa was part of cultural, political, and religious practices. These days it’s still imbibed at baby luaus, weddings, and other celebrations.
Perhaps the eighteenth-century sailors empathized. They had a nearly sacrosanct drink of their own: grog. The stuff is well-documented in ship logs, poems, and journals.
Grog started out as a cost-cutting measure when a captain in the West Indies started to water down the daily rum ration for sailors. (Yes, sailors in the Royal Navy by right had a daily ration of booze, a practice that didn’t cease until the 1970s when it was observed that operating military equipment under the influence could be dangerous.).
As the British Navy’s missions became longer and longer, the problem of keeping fresh provisions arose and prolonged exposure to the elements at sea lead sailors to suffer from vitamin deficiency. Captains killed two birds with one stone by adding citrus into the watered down rum.
The effect was a strange spirit sitting in storage for months on end at room temperature. In 1786, the first observed Christmas in Hawaii, a sea captain ordered coconut water to be mixed in with the grog ration and the first local cocktail was born.
It was around that same time when an escaped convict from the penal colony of Australia ran to Oahu. There, he took the roots from a ti plant, fermented it in an old canoe, and distilled it in round cast iron pots. The result was okolehao.
Hawaiians were quick to pick up on distillation and the newly-discovered spirit. Distillers experimented with all kinds of additives like sugar cane and later pineapple. By the 1820s, liquor (along with prostitution and gambling) was one of the much-desired activities of sailors from whale ships in Honolulu and Lahaina.
For much of the 19th century, pubs, taverns, and grog shops opened and sold liquor and beer. Downtown Honolulu and Lahaina became ground zero for boozing. Traders and merchants sold it. Sailors and locals drank it. At the same time, liquor was blamed for overcrowded jails, crime, poverty, and a great deal of mischief.
As expected, missionaries weren’t pleased. They influenced Queen Kaahumanu to enact strict moral codes. It was the first temperance movement. King Kamehameha himself imposed a kapu on intoxicating liquors in 1818 and again in 1823. The later kings and queens of Hawaii imposed similar restrictions.
The anti-saloon and temperance movements continued after the kingdom gave way to the territory. In 1910, they pushed hard to ban the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages across the islands. The attempt attracted the attention of the Prohibition Party, a national political party opposed to the sale and consumption of alcohol. The measure failed, but the teetotalers were resolved to fight on.
In 1918, the prohibitionists celebrated (without champagne) when Woodrow Wilson banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in Hawaii. The ban was not lifted until 1933.
But the long prohibition did not stop the booze from flowing. In remote gulches, attics, basements, and other discreet places folks were distilling okolehao and other spirits. Law enforcement cracked down on illegal stills and brews.
Even as late as the 1970s you could still find some old-fashioned hooch in the oddest of places. Inmates at the old Oahu Prison would hang shirts in the sun to ferment a strange brew called swipe, which consisted of pineapple, sugar, and yeast.
These days you don’t have to look for a remote gulch in East Maui or jail to find an island-made drink. Haleakala Distilleries is located right across the street from Hailiimaile General Store and makes vodkas, whiskey, and rum. Ocean Vodka is located among the cactus in lower Kula and has tours of their distilling process and offers a high-end vodka.
Maui Brewing Company has been celebrating ten years of brewing beer with events in Kihei, Paia, and Lahaina. And long before this blossoming of booze there was the vineyard in Ulupalakua, which has been bottling wines since the 1980s.

So there you have it. Drinking is inextricably linked to the inhabitants of Hawaii. This just might be the first time we’ve had the most variety. Awa? Homemade swipe? A six-pack of Maui brews? Take your pick.