February 19, 2007, was a typically warm, breezy evening on Oahu, just a little northeast of Pearl Harbor in Waikele, and as always the local Baskin Robbins was a draw at the Waikele Shopping Center. The Paakaula family had parked there, and Gerald Paakaula, 44, had gone into the Baskin Robbins for ice cream cones while his wife and 16-year-old son Alika waited in the car.
Then Andrew and Dawn Dussell, an Army sergeant and his wife, and their three-year-old daughter tried to pull their SUV into the parking lot next to the Paakaulas. (For those who have never driven in Hawaii, all parking spaces are notoriously small. I have trouble parking our Neon in them, and I won’t even try the Waikele lot with my van. )
Not surprisingly, the Dussell’s SUV could not quite take the turn. Mr. Dussell dinged the Paakaula’s car. Here’s where things got ugly.
The Paakaula son, according to witnesses, lost it. He leapt out of the car and started cursing at the Dussells, calling them “fucking haoles” and, ultimately, kicking the driver’s side door repeatedly. Mrs. Dussell, a petite 115-lb. woman, got out of the SUV at this point to try to stop the teen; her husband, with his door being bashed by an angry teen who was bracketed by both vehicles, couldn’t do much of anything.
There were several witnesses at this point, and all agreed that the teen attacked Mrs. Dussell when she approached him (the Paakaula family claims that Mrs. Dussell threw the first punch). At this point, Mrs. Paakaula joined in, and son and mom proceeded to beat the living crap out of Mrs. Dussell.
With the teen distracted from kicking his door, Mr. Dussell could finally get out. He tried to protect his wife. At this point, Mr. Paakaula, a large man, came out of the Baskin Robbins. Seeing what was going on, he leapt in to, according to his attorney, protect his family. The first punch by Mr. Paakaula took Dawn Dussel to the ground, where bystanders said she was knocked out for a couple of seconds.
Mr. Paakaula then turned and hit Mr. Dussell in the windpipe, making it impossible for him to breathe and taking him down almost immediately. Now both the Dussells were on the ground, and their child was hardly likely to get out to help. People everywhere were staring and calling the police.
But this was not enough for the Paakaulas. They kicked the Dussells where they lay on the ground, Mrs. Dussell barely conscious, Mr. Dussell completely out. They broke both the Dussell’s jaws. Mr. Dussell had a teeth knocked out by one kick, and started convulsing after the Paakaulas jumped on his head. The Paakaula men picked up Dawn’s petite body and slammed her into the asphalt, wrestling-style.
At some point during this okole-beating, the police showed up, broke things up, and arrested all of the Paakaulas. Mrs. Paakaula was later released, but father and son both remain in jail. The Dussells were both taken to the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu (not the much-closer military-operated Tripler Medical Facility, but instead the best trauma hospital in Hawaii – an indication of how badly injured they were), where both were kept for weeks. The final tally of their injuries: Dawn Dussell had a concussion, broken jaw, nose, and wrist; Andrew Dussell also had a concussion and broken jaw as well as a broken eye socket. The Paakaulas were uninjured.
Unfortunately, the Dussells are not an isolated incident, just a very public one. On a beach near Kona on the Big Island, a campground was terrorized and six people beaten by thugs. And it is widely acknowledged quietly that many beaches away from urban areas in Oahu are also dangerous because of the high proportion of homeless and drug addicts that live in tents on the public land.
The Word “Haole” in Hawaii
A crucial point in this incident involves the word “haole,” pronounced “howlie.” Hawaiians sometimes use this word to refer to mainlander Caucasians, and it is a derogatory term, used to refer both to race and to the supposed ignorance of mainlanders.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all Hawaiians use this word in this way, and I’m not saying that no mainlander is ignorant. But it’s a common enough term that I know it, and I’ve only been here for about four months. When I asked some kama’aina (people who are at home on the island) friends here about the word, I got the same shifting and glances away you’d expect in a group having to explain the word “nigger.” It’s a word that carries impact.
Hawaiians – both ethnic Hawaiians and kama’aina – are also in love with the word “local.” Advertisements here, even for national brands, are often specially filmed on the islands to include a lot of locals – Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Japanese – because it sells more product. Job boards advertise “local jobs for local people.” There is a distinct prejudice from some quarters against those who are not from here (the Hawaiian government fights this like crazy because it harms the tourist-friendly atmosphere they prize).
Yet one of Hawaii’s favorite selling points is its ethnic diversity: more Asians than Caucasians, about a fifth native Hawaiians, and increasing numbers of native Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics. More than once, I’ve heard at least four different languages besides English at the grocery store or McDonalds. If any state in America needs to avoid racial and ethnic tension, it is Hawaii.
Many islanders discussing the case think it’s ironic that Mrs. Dussell, who is Portuguese, was called a haole. I find a deeper irony in that if the word used had not been “haole” but was instead a phrase like “fucking soldier,” it would be a prosecutable hate crime. You see, the United States Military (and by extension their families) are a protected minority class by federal law. (This scenario is not beyond reason; vehicles owned by military members are clearly marked with base stickers, and anyone living near a military base recognizes the sticker.)
The Paakaulas are proof of one thing, at least: the family that hates together, goes to jail together.