Display of solidarity: Big Islanders protest George Floyd’s death

  • Hundreds of Big Islanders on Sunday gathered along Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona to stand in solidarity for George Floyd. Demonstrations have been taking place nationwide protesting the death of Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Lauren Thormodsgard/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Hundreds of Big Islanders on Sunday gathered along Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona to stand in solidarity for George Floyd. Demonstrations have been taking place nationwide protesting the death of Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Lauren Thormodsgard/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Hundreds of Big Islanders on Sunday gathered along Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona to stand in solidarity for George Floyd. Demonstrations have been taking place nationwide protesting the death of Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Lauren Thormodsgard/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Hundreds of Big Islanders gathered Sunday along Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona to stand in solidarity for George Floyd. Demonstrations have been taking place nationwide, protesting Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25. (Lauren Thormodsgard/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Hundreds braved the brutal midday sun this week, holding signs, waving and chanting while drivers sounded their horns almost incessantly.

Chants including “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and “hands up, don’t shoot” competed with the cacophony of car horns, while signs bore slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “Silence is Violence” on Tuesday fronting Waiakea Center in Hilo.

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“This is the biggest gathering that I have seen here since we have lived here, 17 years,” said a protester who declined to identify herself, other than to say she works at a public charter school in Hilo.

The sizable turnout to demonstrations in Hilo on Tuesday and in Kailua-Kona on Sunday, prompted by social media, was for a peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes — and almost 3 minutes after Floyd went unconscious — during an arrest May 25.

A woman who identified herself simply as Ilohia said she’s “standing up for humanity and equality for all people.”

“Hawaiians fight for land, and (African Americans) are fighting for their lives,” she said. “I’ve never been discriminated against, so I don’t understand what it feels like to have the color of my skin judged. But I stand with them in solidarity.”

Malone’s partner, Tiana Malone Jennings, also compared the current protests to issues faced by Native Hawaiians, especially those who have, so far, successfully protested against the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea.

“We need to stand right now when black lives matter as we stand when Maunakea matters,” Malone Jennings said. “Everybody stood with us when we were standing up for the mauna. So, of course, we support all of our brothers and sisters of planet Earth. When all life matters, black life matters equally.”

Video of the Minneapolis incident taken by an onlooker went viral on social media last week, sparking protests nationwide. While many of those protests were peaceful, others became violent, with buildings burned and businesses looted. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in some cities, including Washington, D.C.

The cop accused of Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers, who held bystanders at bay during the incident, also have been fired, but hadn’t been charged with a criminal act as of Tuesday. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said prosecutors are investigating to determine if the other three would also be charged.

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Floyd could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” while Chauvin kneeled on his neck.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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