Honolulu Lite


Sunday, June 10, 2001

‘Copital punishment’
is a fact of life in
the islands

For a state with no capital punishment, there sure are a lot of criminals put to death around here. Of course, they aren't put to death after a trial or even after they are arrested. They are put to death right there on the spot, shot down at the scene of the crime by the police.

I know a lot of cops. They are nice people. That is, as long as you aren't pointing a gun at them or threatening to kill some innocent bystander. You do that and they'll shoot you.

Police have shot about a dozen people in the last few years. The most recent recipient of instant justice was a 20-year-old guy who just a week ago got drunk, shot a few people at a party and then shot at police when they showed up.

Relatives and friends of the dead young man argued that police could have left him alone to sober up or at least shot him in the leg. You know, wing him, like cops do on television. The thing is, when you have a gun and start shooting at people, particularly the police, you give up your right to negotiate which part of your body you want police to aim at.

Word should be clearly out on the street by now: Hawaii police are not like British bobbies. They aren't going to show up at a hostage situation and blow a whistle. They are going to show up with Kevlar vests and helmets and scary-looking sniper rifles, and they are going to shoot you dead if you are a threat to them or anyone else in the neighborhood. You aren't going to hear your Miranda warnings. You aren't going to get a lawyer. It isn't going to be up to the prosecutor to prove you did something wrong. You aren't going to get an appeal. You aren't even going to get a last cigarette and a blindfold. In Hawaii, home of one of the most lenient judicial systems in the country, if you mess with the cops, you are going to be pau.

And after every standoff in which the police are forced to kill someone, we hear the same protests: The victim was a nice, hard-working guy when he wasn't drunk or strung out on crystal meth; police should have let a relative or friend talk him into surrendering; police should have used nonlethal means of ending the situation.

The truth is that many of the victims of police shootings have long criminal records and have been given many chances to go straight. Their friends and relatives should get them help for substance abuse before they do something fatal, not use the addiction as an excuse for future stupidity. These standoffs, like the one last week, usually are preceded by hours of drinking or ice-smoking. That's the time friends and relatives should be talking to the guy. They should say, "If you don't sober up and go to bed, you are going to do something idiotic that will make you dead."

As for nonlethal means of apprehension, that's a great idea. And the cops do it when they can. But there's a time for beanbags and a time for bullets. If someone thinks they can shoot other people and shoot at police, and all that is going to happen is that they will be shot with a tranquilizer dart or have the wind knocked out of them with a rifle-propelled bean bag, that's not much of a deterrent. Knowing you're going to be killed by government security officers before you get one step inside a courthouse, now, that's a deterrent. Or at least it should be.

Alo-Ha! Friday compiles odd bits of news from Hawaii
and the world to get your weekend off to an entertaining start.
Charles Memminger also writes Honolulu Lite Mondays,
Wednesdays and Sundays. Send ideas to him at the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210,
Honolulu 96813, phone 235-6490 or e-mail

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