Say What Now? 2 Hawaiian Men Found Guilty of a Hate Crime After Beating White Neighbor 9 Years Ago

Two Native Hawaiian men have been sentenced to several years in federal prison on Thursday for beating their white neighbor nine years ago in what has been categorized as a hate crime.

via People:

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright sentenced Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi, 32, and Levi Aki Jr., 33, to more than six years and more than four years in federal prison, respectively. Several U.S. Attorneys argued that the men’s assault of victim Chris Kunzelman was racially motivated, according to the Department of Justice’s statement issued Friday.

“The defendants in this case nearly killed a man because they believed he did not belong in their neighborhood because of the color of his skin,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the statement.

“The law protects everyone in this country from racially motivated violence, and these sentences send a strong message that such violence will not be tolerated.”

“No one should suffer the violence, cover up and injustice the defendants wrought in this case,” said U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors for the District of Hawaii in the statement. “All persons have a right to freedom from violence motivated by racial hatred, and the Department is committed to ensuring that right is protected in a court of law.”

“This horrific violence was motivated by nothing other than hate,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill of the FBI Honolulu Field Office in the statement. “The FBI is committed to ensuring those who perpetrate such injustices are held accountable and that civil rights are respected and protected for all.”

Per the Washington Post, Scottsdale, Ariz. resident Kunzelman said he bought a dilapidated bungalow “unseen” in Kahakuloa, a remote fishing village on the north side of the island, so his wife, who had been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, could live out her dream of experiencing an “island paradise.”

According to the DOJ’s statement, Alo-Kaonohi and Aki trespassed onto Kunzelman’s newly purchased property while he was unpacking his belongings with his elderly uncle in February 2014. They threatened to “tie [him] up and drag [him]” and make him “go missing.”

Kunzelman had received similar threats from other residents of the village, as well: “This is a Hawaiian village. The only thing coming from the outside is the electricity,” and “You don’t even belong in Hawaii,” were some things he was told, according to the statement.

The report detailed that during the assault, Alo-Kaonohi dragged his index finger across Kunzelman’s jaw and told him, “Your skin is the wrong f—ing color” when Kunzelman said he owned the house. Aki then gave Alo-Kaonohi a roofing shovel, which he used to strike Kunzelman in the back of his head hard enough to create a gash.

Shortly after, Alo-Kaonohi and Aki assaulted Kunzelman again, head-butting him and striking him in the face with the shovel, knocking him unconscious.

“No white man is ever going to live here,” one of them said during the attack.

When Kunzelman regained consciousness, he had two broken ribs and a concussion.

A security camera on Kunzelman’s car recorded parts of the attack, the Washington Post reported. In the footage, Aki said “Haole,” which is a Hawaiian word for outsiders, typically used to refer to White people in a negative connotation.

According to the Washington Post, Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were charged in November, nine months after the assault. At the sentence hearing, the government introduced evidence that Alo-Kaonohi assaulted another White man in a similar fashion at a bar in Wailuku, Maui, months after he and Aki attacked Kunzelman, the statement read.

The victim was attacked from behind and punched repeatedly in the head until he was knocked unconscious. He sustained a large gash on his head that took seven staples to close and suffered permanent brain damage, the statement reported.

“You were racist on that day,” Seabright said at Alo-Kaonohi’s sentencing hearing, according to local news accounts, per the Washington Post.

Alo-Kaonohi and Aki’s defense argued that they were angered by Kunzelman’s sense of entitlement, as he allegedly cut the locks of a gate to access a private road. Aki told police that Kunzelman was a “typical Haole” trying to “change everything up in Kahakuloa” with his wealth.

“There’s not going to really be any dispute that what he did was wrong,” Craig Jerome, a federal defender representing Alo-Kaonohi, told the jury in November, per the Washington Post. “But he didn’t do any of those things because of Mr. Kunzelman’s race. It was Mr. Kunzelman’s behavior. It was his perceived disrespect. It was his attitude.”

The Washington Post reported Kunzel told police that he showed his neighbors copies of his property deed and easements, which granted him access to the private road.

Jonathan Okamura, a professor emeritus of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told the Washington Post that the attack was an example of “greater resentment against [White] haoles because of the historical oppression they inflicted upon Hawaiians.”

Local prosecutors initially sought a 10-year prison sentence for each defendant on charges of assault and terroristic threatening. However, the judge said the state’s case had been tainted by a series of procedural missteps and suggested a settlement.

Alo-Kaonohi and Aki pled guilty to local charges in 2019 and were respectively sentenced to four years of probation and seven months of probation and time-served in prison, according to the Washington Post. The outlet reported that both men apologized to Kunzelman, but the plaintiff was not happy with the punishment.

“The only word I can come up with is corruption,” Kunzelman told Hawaii News Now in 2019. “Both of them got probation and absolutely nothing. They got off scot-free.”

According to the Washington Post, Kunzelman left Hawaii after the assault, but they still own the bungalow in Kahakuloa.

A ‘hate crime’ against a white man for being white? How can that even be?

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