Micronesians feel hatred in Hawaii, decry police shooting

HONOLULU (AP) — Comments on social media about a 16-year-old boy shot and killed by Honolulu police have been so hateful that a Catholic priest, who hails from the same small Pacific island as the teen’s family, hesitates to repeat them.

“It is really bad and I don’t want to say it as a priest,” said the Rev. Romple Emwalu, parochial vicar at a parish outside Honolulu who was born in Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia. “But, like, ‘Micronesians are dirt.’”

Some in the Micronesian community say the April 5 shooting of Iremamber Sykap highlights the racism they face in Hawaii, a place they expected to be more welcoming to fellow islanders.

Police say Sykap was driving a stolen car when he led officers on a chase through oncoming traffic after a series of crimes including an armed robbery and purse-snatching.

Sykap’s family is from Chuuk, but he was born in Guam, a U.S. territory, said his mother, Yovita Sykap.

“He’s American,” she said.

Of Hawaii’s 1.5 million residents, 38% are Asian — mostly Japanese and Filipino — 26% are white, 2% are Black, and many people are multiple ethnicities, according to U.S. census figures. Native Hawaiians account for about 20% of the population.

There are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Micronesians in Hawaii, who began migrating here in bigger numbers in the 1990s in search of economic and educational opportunities, said Josie Howard of We are Oceania, which advocates for the Micronesian community.

The Compact of Free Association allows citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau to live and work freely in the United States in exchange for allowing the U.S. military to control strategic land and water areas in the region.

Located about 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii, the Federated States of Micronesia consists of 607 islands with a population of about 107,000.

The relationship with the U.S. seems to make people in Hawaii incorrectly believe that Micronesians are a drain on social benefits, said Sha Merirei Ongelungel, a Honolulu resident.

A Palauan born and raised in Oregon, Ongelungel came to Hawaii “because all I wanted to do was to fit in and be around Pacific Islanders and know what it was like to not stand out like a sore thumb.”

When she first got here, a cousin advised her to tell potential employers she was from Oregon. “If you tell them you’re Micronesian, you won’t get a job,” she said her cousin told her.

She wasn’t prepared for the racism in Hawaii, and so she left after a year.

Ongelungel said she felt equipped to deal with the racism on the U.S. mainland against those who are not white. “I didn’t have training to fight people who looked like my actual blood relatives,” she said.

She returned to Hawaii nearly 15 years later.

What might be difficult for a priest to repeat, Ongelungel doesn’t hesitate to describe: “People talking about killing cockroaches, calling for a purge on Micronesians, calling to have us — even those of us who are U.S. citizens who are born in the United States — calling for us to be deported, calling for the parents of minors to be incarcerated, you name it.”

She said that whenever there’s a crime in the news involving someone who is Micronesian, there’s an uptick in hateful comments, but “they never fully go away.”

After the shooting, some local media outlets reported about Sykap’s criminal history as a juvenile.

“I want to press people on why his past matters when he’s a child,” Ongelungel said.

The police department has offered little information on the shooting. The department won’t release body camera footage because there were other minors in the car with Sykap.

A little more than a week after the shooting, Honolulu police shot and killed a Black man who had entered a home that wasn’t his, sat down and took off his shoes, prompting a frightened occupant to call 911. Chief Susan Ballard said race wasn’t a factor in that incident.

In response to protests in other parts of the country decrying police brutality against minorities, Ballard, who is white, has said that in general, that degree of racism doesn’t exist here.

“Officers are extensively trained to respond to the individual’s behavior and actions, not race,” said police spokeswoman Michelle Yu.

Eric Seitz, an attorney not involved in the Sykap case who represents families of others who have been killed by police, says Honolulu police have similar issues with race as other U.S. cities.

“More and more people are coming to realize that Hawaii is not different and that just as they release video footage in all of these other cities for all of these other incidents, it should be obligatory as a matter of public responsibility to release the similar information here,” Seitz said.

Nothing in the law prevents police from blurring out faces of the other juveniles in the car with Sykap, he said.

Jacquie Esser, a state deputy public defender, said police will often stop Micronesians for no reason or call them cockroaches. “It’s so blatant,” she said.

Esser believes the department leaked Sykap’s sealed records to the media to demonize him and now are relying on juvenile confidentiality to keep the footage from becoming public.

The department denies doing so. “Juvenile arrest records are generally confidential, and department policy prohibits the release of a suspect’s prior arrest history,” Yu said.

Ann Hansen befriended Sykap’s family in 2008 and became godmother to him and four of his siblings after noticing they walked 3 miles (5 kilometers) each way to get to the Cathedral of St. Andrew, an Episcopal church in downtown Honolulu.

People called him “Baby” because he was the youngest of eight, she said. Hansen said she used to drive him to ukulele lessons.

There has also been an outpouring of support for the slain teen, including a memorial for Sykap at a street corner near where the shooting took place. Some people have kept round-the-clock vigil at the site, decorated with floral bouquets, balloons, candles and a stuffed bear.




  • This fatal shooting, and the non-fatal shooting of another person in the car, is in the news again.

    According to the CNN article linked below, the three involved officers have now been charged with crimes, including second degree murder, for the death of Skycap and the injuries to his brother. The charges were made less than a week after a grand jury declined to bring charges against the officers. One officer is charged with second degree murder, and the other two have been charged with attempted murder.

    According to the complaint, as quoted in the article, the officers claimed that Skycap, who was apparently driving, attempted to run them down with the car, and that they shot to defend themselves. Apparently the bodycam footage showed a different story.

    From the CNN article:

    "There was no one in front of the white Honda, and there were no civilians on the sidewalk or anywhere in front of the white Honda," the complaints state. "The evidence confirms that Defendant Thom did intentionally or knowingly cause the death of Iremamber Sykap by shooting (him) eight times."


    Grand Jury proceedings are secret, so it is not known why the grand jury decided not to indict the officers.

  • SC, can you tell us why a prosecutor can still file charges even if a grand jury refuses to indict?

    I'm not a lawyer and am not taking sides here. I just wonder what is the purpose of a grand jury if a prosecutor can overrule their decision.
  • I hope the Chuukese in Hawaii would not take advantage of the recent development and commit crimes if they falsely think that they will get away with it especially if monetary compensation is involved.
  • I do not know much about criminal law, but I did a little research and it does appear that a prosecutor retains the right to file criminal charges even when a grand jury declines to indict. Something about prosecutorial discretion.

    There are a few reasons to take a matter before a grand jury. One is to provide cover to a prosecutor, who might not be sure of the strength of his or her case. Where the prosecutor feels the case may not be winnable, putting it before the grand jury takes the risk away. Win or lose, the prosecutor can always point to the grand jury if a case goes to trial.

    Another reason would be to avoid the charge of favoritism, especially where police officers are involved. Prosecutors who refuse to charge a police officer without taking the case to a grand jury could be accused of refusing to prosecute people they work with every day.

    What is more interesting to me is why the grand jury declined to indict. It is often said that if asked, a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich. They only hear evidence from the prosecutor, the potential defendant has no role or right to participate in the proceeding, and if a prosecutor goes to a grand jury, it would be reasonable to assume that he or she would put the strongest case possible before the grand jury.

    One possibility is that the grand jury was composed of people who were predisposed to take the police officer's side, and to believe that the police could do no wrong. Another possibility is that the prosecutor failed to present all of the evidence, or included exculpatory evidence due to the prosecutor's own bias toward police. The chances are no one will know, as grand jury proceedings are under most circumstances secret. It is also possible that the grand jury had a majority in favor of indictment, but required a super-majority, which it did not have.

    What is surprising to me is that the case against the officers seems, according to the known evidence, to be fairly strong. The officers said Sykap tried to run them down, and drove his auto into the police cruiser, and they shot him out of fear for their own lives. But if the article is correct, the officers lied. Apparently, if the complaint and available evidence is to be believed, there were no officers or civilians in front of or along side the vehicle. And the evidence showed that Sykap was shot eight times through the back window of the vehicle including in the back of the head, or through the side of the car. And the following article says that Sykap's vehicle did not have damage of the sort that would have been sustained if he had intentionally collided with a police cruiser. He was, apparently, driving away when he was shot.

    Here is another article from a Hawai'i news source regarding the indictment, and some forensic evidence:

  • If only we wouldnt hear of this kind of news anymore...imageimage
  • People will fight back and it’ll be open season on all cops and their families.
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