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Thursday, September 28, 2000

Hawaiian recognition
takes big step forward

Bullet The issue: The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill granting federal recognition to Hawaiians as native people entitled to self-government.
Bullet Our view: House approval improves the chances that the bill can become law this year.

PASSAGE by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Hawaiian recognition bill substantially improves the chances that the measure will become law this year. It had been expected that winning approval would be more difficult in the House than in the Senate, which has yet to take up a companion bill.

Senator Akaka, the principal sponsor of the measure, says he and Senator Inouye are considering "all possible options to get this bill through the Senate and to the president's desk." The senators probably have the clout to make it happen.

In what Neil Abercrombie called "the biggest thing that has ever happened to me in my legislative career," the Hawaii representative succeeded in gaining approval of the bill by voice vote with only 10 minutes of discussion. If any member opposing the measure had called for a recorded vote, approval by a two-thirds vote would have been required, but no such motion was made.

Rep. Patsy Mink, who had previously expressed reservations about the bill, spoke in its favor. But it was Abercrombie who engineered the victory.

"This is a major step forward for Hawaiian self-determination," he said after the House passed the measure. However, it will be for naught unless the Senate follows suit before the session ends.

The bill calls for federal recognition of Hawaiians as a native people entitled to a government-to-government relationship with Washington, similar to those possessed by American Indian and Alaskan tribes.

Its impetus was the U.S. Supreme Court's Rice vs. Cayetano decision nullifying the Hawaiians-only voting restriction for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs as unconstitutional racial discrimination. There has been concern that the decision could lead to other rulings dismantling federal and state programs benefiting Hawaiians.

The Rice decision, although viewed at the time as a setback for the Hawaiian cause, may have been beneficial in that it brought together several Hawaiian leaders who are often in disagreement to push for federal recognition of a Hawaiian nation. Of course, some disagree and insist on holding out for full independence, which is most unlikely to happen.

If this legislation becomes law and survives legal challenges, it will give Hawaiians a much firmer status in the U.S. political system than they currently have through OHA. It may also resolve an issue that is dividing the community here.

Police brutality
must be punished

Bullet The issue: Police officers have pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from the beating of a cellblock inmate.
Bullet Our view: The city should not rely on federal authorities to prosecute future cases of police brutality.

FEDERAL prosecutors have broken through the police code of silence and obtained convictions of Honolulu officers responsible for the beating of a prisoner in the police cellblock five years ago or trying to conceal the incident. While justice has been achieved, including an out-of-court settlement of a civil lawsuit brought by the prisoner, questions remain about why the case went unprosecuted by the city.

Officers Jesse Nozawa, A.C. Brown, William Duarte and David Chun were accused of beating Richard Doolin in a cell at the Honolulu police station in August 1995.

Doolin had been arrested after a domestic dispute. Sgt. George DeRamos, on duty as acting lieutenant at the Honolulu receiving desk, allegedly had asked Officer Brian Punzal, the acting sergeant on the shift, that officers "take care" of the "unruly prisoner." After the beating, De Ramos allegedly told Doolin that he would be beaten again if he told anyone about it.

Doolin, whose injuries included broken ribs and a collapsed lung, reported the beating to authorities. He accepted a $317,000 settlement of a lawsuit he filed against the city.

According to Dan Foley, Doolin's former attorney, police conducted an internal affairs investigation and sent its report to then-city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who chose not to file criminal charges. Duarte pleaded guilty in federal court in 1998 to misdemeanor charges in June 1999 as the U.S. attorney's office indicted the five other officers on civil-rights charges.

Invoking the code of silence, Chun confessed to having taken part in the beating but refused to testify against his fellow officers. The final guilty pleas from his cohorts were entered this week, avoiding a trial. Substantial prison sentences should be imposed.

Doolin's beating came only seven months after the beating of an inmate at the Pearl City station by four other officers. In that case also the city prosecutor's office decided against filing charges and the officers were prosecuted in federal court.

These cases tarnished the reputation of the Honolulu Police Department. They also leave a cloud over Kaneshiro's legacy as prosecutor for allowing the perpetrators to go unpunished by the city.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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