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Jury finds two Native Hawaiian men guilty of hate crime in attack on white man

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On Thursday a jury in Hawaii found two native Hawaiian men guilty of a hate crime relating to the serious assault of a white man. The victim was reportedly working on his house in a Maui neighborhood when the incident took place.

Prosecutors said during the trial, which took place in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, that Alo-Kaonohi and Aki were motivated by Christopher Kunzelman’s race when they punched, kicked, and used a shovel to assault men. They said that Kunzelman was left concussed, he had two broken ribs and suffered trauma to the head and abdominal, prosecutors alleged.

Lawyers for Alo-Kaonohi and Aki did not dispute that the assault took place; however they refuted claims that it was a hate crime. The defense said that Kunzelman’s entitled and disrespectful attitude was the catalyst for the attack.

“Haole,” a Hawaiian word with meanings that include foreign and white person, was a large part of the prosecution’s case.

At one point Aki is heard saying, “You’s a haole, eh,” but defense attorneys argued that he didn’t use the word in a derogatory way.

“It’s not a hate crime to assault somebody and in the course of it use the word ‘haole,’” attorney Lynn Panagakos said during her opening statement. She noted that Aki is part Hawaiian and part white.

“’Haole’ has multiple meanings depending on the context,” she argued. “It’s an accepted word.”

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright found both men guilty of a hate crime and ordered Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi and Levi Aki Jr. remain in custody until sentencing, which is scheduled for the 2nd of March 2023.

Alo-Kaonohi’s father, Chico Kaonohi, said that race played no part in the attack and “’Haole’ is not a racial word.”

“Where we come from, we’re not racial people,” Chico Kaonohi, said. “It wasn’t about race.”

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