by Aneesh J,

March 28, 2021

HONOLULU, HI (Thursday, March 26) – Aloha Freedom Coalition (AFC). Many heard the name for the first time after a March 20 gathering at Kapiolani Park was overrun with Honolulu Police Department officers, culminating in the detainment of two individuals. One was a mother who was subjected to a particularly violent arrest and was separated from her children.

In a climate where the steady digest of daily chatter centers around cases, swabs, tiers, vaccines, isolation, distancing, washing and masking, some media have caved to the temptation to write us off as anti-maskers, conspiracy theorists, or a fringe element engaged in confrontation with police. Story done.

However, the story is far from over. Who is AFC and why did HPD storm in? We can answer the first question, but we are having a difficult time getting a straight answer about the actions that day of the 50 or so officers involved, some of whom arrived in riot gear, heavily equipped with mace, tasers and zip ties, presumably for mass arrests. Who gave the orders, and why?

If you were among the 500 or so at the Diamond Head corner of Kapiolani Park the day of our quiet gathering, you would have witnessed a family atmosphere with keiki and kupuna alike enjoying performances of hula and Tahitian, a comedy act, and a series of speakers who raised issues concerning constitutional rights, how well children are coping with a restricted social life, and personal health choices versus blanket mandates. These days, these issues seem almost taboo. But why? These are, or should be, normal American conversations. When it comes to health, especially in such crucial settings as we find ourselves, we need more conversation covering every angle, not less. We need informed choices.

These are the conversations that gave birth to Aloha Freedom Coalition in September 2020. The purpose of our gathering that day was to offer camaraderie and food for thought to a vibrant cross section of the unique mix of backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, and political platforms that make up our island state. And to celebrate the aloha spirit.

Shortly into the program, officers arrived. Since its inception, AFC has maintained a positive relationship with HPD who is familiar with our peaceful ohana. Prior to the program, we had been in touch to make them aware of our event, and an officer sought and received consent from our coordinator to share his contact information with the Waikiki precinct. Having HPD on site seemed business as usual and our speakers thanked them for their presence.

But then, a steady stream of official vehicles suddenly came pouring onto the grass in physical confrontation of the group. A muffled announcement paused the program, and before attendees could make sense of what was happening, dozens of officers circled the group and aggressively marched toward the center, citation books in hand. The approach was so heavy handed as to be ludicrous.

Our shock turned to dismay as a large group of officers convened around a man who was with his young child and pointed the man out as someone to be taken. Then several officers began wresting a flag from a woman with two children and subsequently threw her to the ground and piled on top of her in front of the frightened keiki. Careful perusal of video footage finds that both parents had complied with orders and were wearing masks. Our cries, as can also be seen on video as we faced those officers, were expressions of extreme sadness and valid frustration.

Are we anti-maskers? No, we are a group that cares about fundamental human rights, whether they involve an individual’s health choices or the egregious treatment of an innocent family woman. Civil liberties have always been a rallying cause for all American citizens, and police officers swear to protect and defend those civil liberties. Did we have a confrontation with police officers? No, because that implies mutual culpability. We were unassuming targets, who suffered seeing a fellow attendee being grossly manhandled by officers – by all accounts, unprovoked.

Ironically, on the same day, hundreds of thousands marched in global rallies against police tyranny. We never could have guessed that would be relevant here. A contingency of overeager officers overstepped their duty as keepers of the peace. They need to be held accountable for the brutal arrest and traumatizing treatment of a peaceful crowd. Why, were they dispatched? Why did Chief Susan Ballard claim in one news bulletin that she expected thousands? How did the chief of police receive such faulty information? And why send in riot police when HPD was familiar with us and had been in contact with us prior? The first few officers were on site well before an army of additional officers arrived. Why didn’t those first officers give the stand down order once they saw we were no threat and that we had keiki and kupuna present? The scenario begs critical questions. We deserve answers. Most important, we seek to avoid such unnecessary actions by HPD in the future.

Media is vital to a healthy American democracy in their role as mediators of information and in holding public officials accountable for their actions. AFC is available for interviews.

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