I went to the courthouse during my lunch break to sit with the family and their supporters while they waited for the verdict. While I was being introduced to members of the family, I could only mumble my feelings to them. I couldn’t even fathom what they were going through. I couldn’t even stay that long because I had to get back to work. I felt so helpless. So useless.
And I felt even more helpless when I tried to think of what it might be like for this family to experience the trauma of a drunken federal agent shooting their child. And then getting away with it. Twice. And they have to live in a community where people have celebrated their son’s murderer as a hero or have declared confidently that he deserved to die. To see that there are no real avenues for justice left for them. Maybe there never were any. What can you say to people who have gone through this as you shake their hand or kiss their cheek? I really don’t know. I don’t think I said all that I could have. Or should have.
At the march, at least, we knew what we could say. And we said it as a community. We said, “We stand with you.” That was the main reason a lot of us marched. I think some people cast it as an angry protest, and we were definitely outraged, but I think that a lot of us were there to show our aloha to the family and let them know that even though the verdict and media portrayal of their beloved son might not seem like it, the community is here for them and supports them.
It is of course inevitable that we compare Kollin’s murder to what has happened in other places. It’s clearly systemic. Not every cop and federal agent is racist, but to ignore the racial elements of these killings is ludicrous. To me, even though the evidence was negative for cocaine in his system, it was so easy for the mainstream media to paint Kollin Elderts as a druggie bully because the image of the Hawaiian man as a brutal savage is still lurking there in the public consciousness, ready to rear its ugly broad-nosed head at any second. Even people who don’t necessarily support the verdict have referred to Kollin Elderts as a punk, without even knowing him, because that’s the default image of the Hawaiian man. You could see the image of the savage Hawaiian in the political cartoons of the day during the Massie Case in the early 1930s, and you can still see it in the caricatures of Kollin presented in the media now. These types of portrayals ensure that the public continues to react to brown and black men as always potentially violent, creating hundreds of situations a day when young black and brown men can be shot and killed for something as simple as selling cigarettes, wearing a hoodie, walking in the street, or going to McDonald’s.
Me ke aloha,
Photo by Ed Greevy