When Christopher Kunzelman attempted to move into their Kahakuloa neighborhood in 2014, Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. punched, kicked, and beat him with a shovel. The incident was motivated by Kunzelman’s race, the jury found in November.
According to the Justice Department, Alo-Kaonohi, 33, received a 78-month term, while Aki, 33, received a 50-month sentence.
“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. 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,” stated Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
According to local attorneys, this is the first time native Hawaiians have been charged with a hate crime in the US. The case has brought to light the conflict between native Hawaiians who want to maintain their culture and outsiders who are unfamiliar with Hawaii’s history and racial dynamics.
The two men’s attorneys dispute that the attack was racially motivated, instead blaming the victim’s attitude of entitlement and disdain for it.
Lori Kunzelman, Kunzelman’s wife, said that the couple adored Maui and that Kunzelman had bought a house for $175,000 to fix up after she was identified as having multiple sclerosis.
Locals harassed and intimidated him as he started building on the house, saying things like, “This is a Hawaiian village. The only thing coming from the outside is the electricity,” and “You don’t even belong in Hawaii.”
It was clear that the act was motivated by hatred from the start, she added. The whole time they’re saying things like, ‘You have the wrong skin color. No ‘haole’ is ever going to live in our neighborhood.’”
The Hawaiian term “haole” has a convoluted past. White person and alien are two of its definitions. In her book “Haoles in Hawai’i,” Judy Rohrer argues that when someone “acts haole,” they are behaving arrogantly and as though they control the place.
They stole Kunzelman’s phone, which included a video of the assault, and threw it into the water.
Prosecutors claim that after the incident, Aki called Kunzelman a “rich Haole guy,” a “dumb haole,” and a typical haole thinking he owning everything trying to change things up in Kahakuola.”
According to their attorneys, the guys were furious when Kunzelman removed locks on village gates. According to Kunzelman, he fixed his new house while being often shut in and out by neighbors.
He said that he planned to provide the community with new locks and give inhabitants keys.