Racists Once Terrorized This Hawaii County. Diversity Made It Prosper

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Written By Blue & Gold NLR Team

 

 

 

 

Hawaii is often perceived as a haven of multiculturalism and harmony, yet its history is marked by racial conflicts and violence. One illustrative incident occurred in 2014 in Kahakuloa, a small village on Maui, where two Native Hawaiian men brutally assaulted a white man attempting to move into their remote, traditional fishing village.

The Assault and the Trial

Christopher Kunzelman and his wife had purchased an oceanfront home in Kahakuloa for $175,000 without inspecting it, driven by her desire to live near the ocean after a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Unaware of the village’s history and cultural complexities, they were confronted by Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. on the day of the attack. Accusing Kunzelman of trespassing and disrespecting their land, they subjected him to punches, kicks, and shovel blows, resulting in a concussion, two broken ribs, and head trauma. The assailants also threatened to kill him if he ever returned to the village.

Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were arrested and charged with a federal hate crime carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Pleading not guilty, they asserted they were defending their ancestral rights and that Kunzelman’s race wasn’t a motivating factor. Their defense claimed Kunzelman provoked them with an entitled and arrogant attitude, ignoring warnings to stay away from their sacred land.

However, in November 2022, a jury convicted them, determining that they had attacked Kunzelman due to his race. U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright acknowledged the unique nature of the hate crime but asserted that racial intent was evident. He stated that the assault wouldn’t have occurred if Kunzelman were not white.

In March 2023, Seabright sentenced Alo-Kaonohi to six and a half years in prison and Aki to four years and two months. Additionally, they were ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution to Kunzelman and his wife.

The Background and Significance

The case of Alo-Kaonohi and Aki sheds light on the intricate relationship between race and identity in Hawaii, a state boasting diverse ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Hawaii’s history includes colonization, oppression, and resistance by Native Hawaiians, the islands’ indigenous people. They’ve faced discrimination, marginalization, and land dispossession by white settlers, missionaries, businessmen, and the U.S. government. The struggle to preserve language, culture, and sovereignty persists against assimilation and globalization.

Resentment and hostility toward white people, viewed as invaders and oppressors, have been expressed by some Native Hawaiians. Tensions have also arisen with other ethnic groups over representation, recognition, and resources. Debates on independence, autonomy, or self-determination for Native Hawaiians exist alongside a more inclusive vision of Hawaii.

The case raises questions about diversity and tolerance in Hawaii’s society and economy. While praised for diversity and harmony, Hawaii grapples with challenges of inequality, segregation, and polarization. Some see diversity as a strength fostering innovation and prosperity, while others view it as a threat causing conflict and decline.

Alo-Kaonohi and Aki’s case underscores that racism and violence can manifest anywhere, even in a place renowned for its beauty and diversity. It emphasizes that diversity and harmony require ongoing dialogue, respect, and understanding among different groups and individuals. Hawaii’s rich and complex history and culture deserve to be learned and appreciated by all who live in or visit the islands.

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