As nearly everyone in Hawaii knows, the so-called "Trial of the Century" ended last week with a verdict of not guilty. After nine months of testimony from 120 witnesses, 45,000 pages of transcripts and 1,100 exhibits, it's over and O.J. Simpson is a free man. The announcement of the jury's verdict created such a media sensation that both the State Department and two members of President Clinton's cabinet chose to delay their news conferences rather than risk being drowned out by the close of the Simpson trial.
Though Bumpy Kanahele's trial will certainly gain less attention -- even in Hawaii, its impact on our lives here will be much more significant.
The O.J. Simpson trial was about whether a celebrity former football star was guilty of murder. In a poll taken on the day of the verdict announcement, only 33 percent of Americans agreed with the jury's verdict of not guilty and 56 percent disagreed. The most important thing about the poll was not its results --that most people thought O.J. was guilty -- but the nature of the question itself. Everybody's major concern throughout the trial has been whether or not O.J. "did it." Although the jury may have made its decision to make a political statement -- some are saying so -- the primary focus of the trial was on O.J.'s guilt or innocence.
Determining exactly what Mr. Kanahele's trial is about is a little more difficult. He has been charged with impeding the arrest of a Native Hawaiian tax protester and has been held without bail ever since his arrest at on August 2. Interestingly, a poll of Hawaiian voters conducted on the day of Kanahele's arrest did not ask whether he was guilty or innocent. Instead, those polled were asked if they agreed with his brand of sovereignty. Of the numerous viewpoints and editorials written on Kanahele since his arrest, most have focused not on his guilt or innocence but on his political views and merits as a leader. In contrast, no polls were taken after Simpson's arrest asking people what they thought of his political views -- that would have been absurd. In fact, despite the unprecedented coverage of O.J. Simpson's trial, very few Americans know anything about the former football star's politics.
Of course, the two cases are very different. O.J. was charged with murder and Bumpy has been charged with harboring a tax protester. In the American system both are innocent until proven guilty based on the evidence presented. In the Simpson trial the media provided the public with enormously detailed information regarding the murders. In Kanahele's situation Hawaii's people have been given few details relating to the alleged crime. This would be only understandable if there wasn't any media coverage of the case at all.
What the whole affair really seems to be about is whether Bumpy Kanahele, as the head of the Nation of Hawaii, is a danger to the community. U.S. Magistrate Barry Kurren cited exactly this concern as one of his reasons for denying Kanahele's request for bail.
This allegation, that Kanahele is a "danger to the community" bears some looking into -- especially since much of the media coverage and commentary on Kanahele has depicted him and the Nation of Hawaii as extremist. Is Kanahele a dangerous extremist and, if so, to what community?
Is Kanahele a dangerous extremist and, if so, to what community?
Under Bumpy Kanahele's leadership the Nation of Hawaii has declared the Hawaiian Archipelago to be independent of the United States. Such a move is certainly radical, but can it be labeled extremist? The act of declaring national independence was at least as radical in 1776 as it is today, but does it necessarily follow that all efforts made to achieve independence are inherently extremist in nature?
There are currently a number of independence movements around the world that use tactics to further their cause which could be labeled extremist. Do Bumpy Kanahele and the Nation of Hawaii fall into this category?
Last Wednesday marked the fourth month that Western tourists have been held hostage by a separatist group in the Kashmir region of India. The rebel group, Al-Faran, is fighting India's rule of Kashmir. The possibility of the tourists' release seems dim and one of them, a Norwegian, has already been beheaded. More than 20,000 people have been killed since the rebellion began in 1990.
The Nation of Hawaii under Bumpy's direction has also had controversial interaction with tourists -- they gave them pamphlets on sovereignty. Not only was this action obviously much less extreme than Al-Faran's, it is now seen by some as beneficial to tourism. Although the action was criticized when it occurred, HVB's new president, Paul Casey, reevaluated the action in the Star-Bulletin in August saying, "People look back to 1993 when leaflets were handed out on the beach. And at the time, tourists were curious about sovereignty, they wanted to know more about it, they wanted to be educated. So it really wasn't a negative." Pamphleteering has been a tradition since before the United States declared its own independence and the Nation of Hawaii utilized the practice to good effect.
Even though Kanahele's most recent major action as the Nation of Hawaii's leader -- warning federal officials that they will be held responsible for their actions -- was certainly confrontational, it was still within the bounds of free-speech and nonviolent.
Most independence movements view violence as a necessary means for achieving their objectives. In contrast, as the Nation of Hawaii's leader, Kanahele has repeatedly stated his commitment to a peaceful resolution to the sovereignty question.
For those of us who still wish to call ourselves citizens of the United States, the depiction of Kanahele as a dangerous extremist who needs to be jailed should be of serious concern. Serious enough to be able to call it the way we see it, regardless of what our personal opinion of Kanahele or the Nation of Hawaii might be.
Here's the way I see it: Bumpy Kanahele is being selectively prosecuted for political reasons, period. This is not the type of action I want my country to be taking. As a strategy for "protecting" us from sovereignty, it's stupid; and as an exercise in justice, it's just plain wrong.
"Mauka to Makai" offers an opportunity for community members to express opinions on topics of note to our town.
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