Rallying for Nathaniel

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol.

Family, friends and community members came out in the hundreds in a rally for justice for Nathaniel Naki on May 14. From Mana’e to Kaunakakai, a line of cars stretching several miles long crossed the island in a motorcade, honking and holding signs. Stopping in the parking lot near the police station, they gathered in peaceful demonstration to sing a hymn, as well as “Happy Birthday.” 

The day marked what would have been Naki’s 41st birthday.  

“Our son, he didn’t turn, huli! He didn’t run, holo! He didn’t hide; he stood, and took those shots,” Naki’s father, Leimana Naki, told those gathered. 

Forty-year-old Nathaniel Naki was shot by Maui County police on April 30 when they responded to a restraining order violation in Waialua. As the first police shooting that residents can remember on Molokai, the community was left reeling in shock. 

“The first thing the parents said to me, they were concerned after this was done to our son — they were concerned for their son and their daughter,” said Leimana Naki. “That was their first reaction.”

The Naki ‘ohana organized the event in a call for justice, as well as to honor Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Nathaniel Naki suffered from mental illness, and his death has brought calls to bolster the island’s scant mental health resources. 

“We need better on-island services to respond to the mental health needs, which are often caused by the stress of being in constant survival mode from walking the tightrope of American capitalism and ‘aina-based living and to return our ‘aina back to the people with kuleana to malama, in order to address the generational trauma of the illegal overthrow of our Kingdom,” said County Councilwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez of Molokai.  “Drug and alcohol use can take the place of healthcare services as means to cope and that can have detrimental effects.”

Nationally, one in five youth has a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder, while one in five adults lives with a mental illness. 

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol.

In the 2021 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it was found that more than half of public school students – 54 percent of middle school and 56 percent of high school students – rarely or never get help among those youth who reported feeling sad, empty, hopeless, angry or anxious. 

On a small island like Molokai, support services are even more limited for those facing mental health challenges. Community leaders have said mental health is a topic that needs open discussion, not stigmatization, and the need for crisis intervention services has been brought to the forefront. 

“Nathaniel was my friend, and I intend to honor my friend’s life by working harder to improve the overall health and well-being of our community, and to collaborate with our police to prevent this from ever happening again,” said Rawlins-Fernandez. “With such an unprecedented situation, it is challenging to be in a system where the culturally appropriate response may be in direct conflict with the legal advice that limits liability, but ultimately — as leaders — we must choose what will promote collective healing in order for us to move forward together.”

As family and friends honored Nathaniel Naki’s life near the police station on May 14, they held signs like, “Justice for Nathaniel,” “Accountability, Transparency, Truth,” “Decriminalize Mental Illness” and “I Not Swinging,” referring to Nathaniel’s words on April 30 during the escalated exchange with police as he held a machete under his arm, released in police body camera footage. 

“Thank you all for coming, I know you all loved my brother Nate,” Palmer Naki told those gathered. “He going be greatly missed. I know each and every one of you has a good story, something good to say about Nathaniel… We looking for justice for Nathaniel.”


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