ACLU of Hawai‘i statement on the court's decision in the police killing of Iremamber Sykap
In April of this year, two unarmed people of color – Iremamber Sykap and Lindani Myeni – were killed by Honolulu police. We feared at the time that Iremamber and Lindani would be killed with impunity, because that’s what almost always happens when a police officer kills a person of color. With the prosecutor’s decision in June not to charge the officers who killed Lindani and with the judge’s decision not to send the officers who killed Iremamber to trial, our fears have been realized. No court verdict would have lifted the pain of their loved ones or ʻohana, but the judge’s decision to not even have Iremamber’s killers face a jury is salt in an open wound. And the judge’s comparison of Iremamber Sykap to “a caged animal” in his ruling shows just how deeply rooted systemic racism is in our criminal legal system.
The system of “public safety” that led to these events unfolding as they have must be fundamentally reimagined and changed. It must not continue. Iremamber Sykap and Lindani Myeni should still be alive. We must do better for them.
HPD’s own data shows that there are significant disparities in use of force by Honolulu police against people who are Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Black. This data is backed up by stories we hear from impacted community members who are targeted by police on a routine basis.
It would be tempting to say that the system is broken. Unfortunately, we know that most systems work exactly as they’re supposed to, and that is true here as well. The core problem is modern policing itself. From their inception, police have been tasked with protecting power and privilege by exerting social control over people of color. Hawai‘i is not immune to this history. From the racism and abuse of power of the Massie case in the 1930s to the corruption of the Kealoha scandal of the 2010s, to the systemic racism that led to the killings of Iremamber Sykap and Lindani Myeni, the long history of problems in policing in Hawai‘i continues.
No simple legal reform or departmental policy change will alter this dichotomy and no amount of training will prevent situations like this from happening. Throwing more money at police departments has never resulted in an end to the killing of community members who police purport to serve, but in reality, more often harm. The only way forward is to divest from policing and reinvest in our directly impacted communities of color. Only that will result in real, sustainable public safety.