Sandee Oshiro
Special to The Hawai’i Herald

Imagine for a moment that your police chief openly mocked Blacks or Native Hawaiians, and your mayor soon after called for “forgiveness.” What do you suppose would be the reaction?

Surely not the shrug of the shoulders that Kaua‘i Police Chief Todd Raybuck is receiving after parodying Asians by squinting his eyes, bowing up and down and mimicking an “Asian” accent, as recently documented by the county police commission in audio recordings and reported by The Garden Island (thegardenisland.com/2021/03/10/hawaii-news/kpd-chief-raybuck-faces-discrimination-charges). And surely not the quick forgive-and-forget response from Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami and others in the community.

There is a disturbing blindness in Hawai‘i to the very real threat to Asians in the U.S. today stirred by behaviors such as Raybuck’s and further manifested in the tepid response to his actions from local officials and some in the media.

Words and behaviors have real consequences. Any steps short of Raybuck’s firing will mean that it is fully acceptable for Kauai’s top law enforcement official to perpetuate stereotypes and discriminate against Asians.

The anti-Japanese sentiment that led to the incarceration of tens of thousands of Americans during World War II transpired because too many citizens gave hate a pass.

President Trump’s harmful comments blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic, amplified by recent actions of white supremacists, are not innocent. In the wake of their rabble-rousing and the economy’s decline, crimes against Asians have jumped even while hate crimes overall have decreased. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, anti-Asian crimes climbed (csusb.edu/sites/default/files/FACT%20SHEET-%20Anti-Asian%20Hate%202020%203.2.21.pdf) in major cities from 49 cases in 2019 to 122 in 2020. Given the nature of these crimes, they often go unreported. The group Stop AAPI Hate (stopaapihate.org) said it received reports of 3,795 incidents of hate between March 2020 and February 2021.

There are real people behind these numbers. The motivation behind the killing of six Asian women in Atlanta massage parlors has not been pinned to anti-Asian sentiment, but the shootings nonetheless have shaken communities across the country, as it should ours.

Some think Hawai‘i is different, that our multi-ethnicity calls for tolerance and turning the other cheek. This may have been the regrettable protocol when lunas whipped plantation workers into submission, but have we made no progress in attitude over 170 years? It would appear little to none if the police commission decides on any action that falls short of Raybuck’s dismissal.

Since Raybuck’s bad behavior targeted Japanese, Kawakami’s reaction is especially troubling. First, the mayor said he is willing to forgive the police chief. Then he said this issue is not important given other challenges facing Kaua‘i, blithely dismissing the fact that the man heading the police department admitted to behavior disparaging a third of Kauai’s population.

The relative silence of the Kauai County Council and other leaders of the community is equally disturbing. At least the police union, the State of Hawai‘i Organization of Police Officers, called for the chief to resign according to The Garden Island (thegardenisland.com/2021/03/11/hawaii-news/shopo-calls-for-raybucks-resignation). SHOPO described his “blatant racism” as “appalling” and said that it spreads public mistrust in police.

According to the police commission’s investigation, one Japanese American officer seeking promotion said Raybuck suggested that Japanese could not be trusted because they say yes when they mean no. What Asian officer can feel that he or she will be judged on their merits given this deplorable treatment of a fellow officer?

Kaua‘i residents will be directly impacted by Raybuck’s attitude toward Asians and yet there has been insufficient transparency about this controversy. The police chief has avoided questions about his actions, opting to issue a video in which he apologizes and acknowledges the hurt he has caused — perhaps in hopes that his multiple racist episodes will be forgiven and that he can keep his job.

The police commission as of Wednesday, Mar. 24, had not revealed what action it will take, although it has found that Raybuck violated county discrimination policies in two instances and created a hostile work environment for an officer based on race.

Given these findings, there should be full disclosure of all evidence involving complaints against Raybuck as well as the police commission’s final actions in his case.

Forgiveness in the face of rising Asian hate and violence should not be an option for Kaua‘i just as it should not be for the rest of the country. Standing strong for the rights of all peoples should be the only choice.

Sandra Oshiro is a veteran journalist formerly with Hawaii Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, The Honolulu Advertiser, West Hawaii Today and KHVH.


Jodie Chiemi Ching

Chaos is an opportunity for ascension, appeared in a journal I randomly opened two days ago. I don’t know when or why I wrote this, but seeing it seemed divinely timed as I was thinking about the rise in violent anti-Asian acts, the pandemic, the recent shooting at a supermarket in Colorado and even locally where people have been displaced because of flooding in Hale‘iwa and on Maui.

This message reminded me that instead of using news of such chaotic events to judge others, perhaps it would be more effective to perceive these happenings as a means to reflect and grow as individuals, organizations and communities.    

Recently in national news, we saw eight people, including six of Asian descent, who were killed at an Atlanta massage business. Also here on our island home, beloved Kaua‘i Police Chief Todd Raybuck got busted; caught on an audio recording was his (alleged) mocking of people of Asian descent. Just among my own circle of family and friends heated debates arose over whether Raybuck should keep his job.

Why can’t people agree? One reason is because our local culture raised us by telling us to learn to take a joke. For a long time ethnic humor in Hawai‘i was a way to celebrate our differences, even through stereotypes like in the song “Mr. Sun Cho Lee” by Keola and Kapono Beamer which ends in “One thing I wen notice about dis place, all us guys we tease da other race. It’s amazing we can live in da same place.” We don’t need to “cancel culture” and never hear this song again, but we can move forward and evolve. And as we are evolving and adjusting there are going to be a few hard lessons along the way.

My Japanese and Okinawan ancestors valued gaman and enryo by quietly enduring hardships without complaint. But those were the days of “shikata ga nai” (it can’t be helped; i.e., we cannot change things around us) which is less true today — thanks to the hard work and sacrifices made by the Issei, Nisei and Sansei. Because while there are still circumstances we can’t control, there are more AJA leaders and community members who can take action. We are a generation who can and should raise our voices.

On the other side of all this craziness, when we ask, What was that all about? We can say we appreciate more, we forgive more and live life more fully.


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