Fund Mental Health Professionals

He needed a hug, not a death sentence.

To practice law in Maui County takes at least seven years. To practice medicine takes a decade or more. To become a police officer takes six months of combined academy and on-the-job training.

Police aren’t required to have even an Associate’s degree in psychology, conflict resolution or even criminal justice. The only requirement to enter the academy is a high school diploma. At the academy they’re trained to enforce, violently if necessary, man-made laws. Police training manuals aren’t written with mental health in mind. They’re certainly not written with Molokai in mind. The officers should have let Nathaniel Naki keep walking away. 

Maui County wouldn’t send teachers to fix a water main break or bus drivers to stop a bank robbery. Short of dispatching a team of mental health workers, if I’m ever in the midst of a mental health emergency, I pray that Aunty arrives with homemade cookies and a big hug. The last thing I’d want to see is an armed cop.

Like me and one out of five other adults, Nathaniel Naki lived with mental health issues. He deserved compassion. He needed a hug, not a death sentence. 

Real justice for Nathaniel will only come when the government would no more kill someone with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or schizophrenia than they would kill someone with cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s or rheumatoid arthritis. 

Those with mental illness are continuously dehumanized and criminalized. Nearly half of the people incarcerated in the U.S. have a history of mental illness. Like Nathaniel, some never get a day in court.

On an island where children are increasingly viewed as criminals, Nathaniel never stood a chance. Seventy children on Molokai were arrested last year alone, according to Captain Winfrey of MPD, some as young as 12. How many of these children will have records now? How many were traumatized from these interactions and will face mental health issues as a result? 

Maui County must fund mental health professionals able to compassionately handle crisis, but also to help empower individuals with mental illness so they can successfully navigate even their darkest days. It’s the only way Nathaniel will not have died in vain.

Jason Mizula



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