'H' word fans fears, debate
What if the "H" word hadn't been uttered?
What if, instead, the assault of a couple in a Waikele shopping complex parking lot had been wordless? What if they had been called "idiots" or "losers" while bones were being shattered? Would there still be public debate over whether it was a hate crime?
Does the word "haole," with or without the adjective profanity, change the injury enough to add years to a potential prison sentence? Does it make a broad-daylight beating over a parking lot collision any more horrible?
The beating of a couple Feb. 19 has opened the floodgates to all sorts of very personal, very specific venting — the type that thrives on chat room rants and e-mail tirades:
Of course it was a hate crime — the same thing happened to me! I cut a Hawaiian off in traffic and he showed me his middle finger! I feared for my life and I still do and you should, too.
Stuff like that.
At some point, "talking about it" stops being healthy and turns incendiary. Bold assertions and blanket conclusions that Hawaiians hate haoles are very racist.
What if both the beaten and the accused were of the same racial background? Would the same crime get media coverage without the hot-button "H" word, or would it be pushed aside as "another Westside beef" because nobody got stabbed or shot?
To be sure, the incident was horrifying. The reaction, though, has been revealing. People read a lot into the assault, and they see much of their own anger, fear, hurt and indignation reflected in what happened. Public debate has rocketed beyond news accounts of what transpired to "what happened to me one time in Waimanalo" or "what someone said to my girlfriend at the football game."
The first question that should be asked by all of us, the one that has been drowned out by the cries of "racism," is how this could have happened in broad daylight, in an open parking lot in a place where families do their shopping. This didn't happen in a spooky corner of a downtown parking garage. This didn't happen in some skanky bar after too many drinks and too much smack talk. This happened in the kind of place you take your family, let your guard down and expect everyone to behave civilly. Something is wrong in our community if people get beat up over a parking mishap.
Hawai'i is neither the perfect paradise the tourism industry has sold for decades nor a vicious jungle where the savage natives prey on innocent white people, as some would have you believe. It is a little of both and a lot of America, where cars are an extension of ego, and behavior is informed by video-game justice, and people still have a hard time just getting along.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or email@example.com.