To Serve And PROTECT? Not Quite!

This column was birthed by an episode of Radiolab I heard last week on National Public Radio. It stunned me when I realized it applies to me, to you, and to the Honolulu Police Department.

Most  police departments in America employ the slogan “To Serve and Protect.”  Or “To Protect and Serve.” Turns out the “serve” part is correct for sworn officers, but not so much the “protect” part.

In #545 U.S. 748 in 2005, City of Castle Rock v. Jessica Gonzales, the U.S. Supreme Court held 7-2 that except in certain rare cases police do not have a duty or obligation to protect citizens.

In Hawaii, too. We and the 49 other states do not have any statute which mandates what police officers must do. There’s an occasional must not do, such as use of the choke hold. But no must do, no protect the citizenry.

The high court held that the Constitution is a negative rights one, meaning it’s there to keep laws from infringing on us. The Constitution is there only to protect us from the state.

This bad-for-us decision (justices Stevens and Ginsburg dissented; Scalia wrote the majority opinion) came out of this incident: Jessica Gonzales of Castle Rock, Colorado, had a restraining order against her violent husband. One day, he stole their three young daughters. Jessica went to the police. They said they’d look into it, but never did. The husband showed up at the police station, shooting. Cops shot back and killed him. In his car they found the three girls — dead. The husband had shot them.

Jessica Gonzales and the three daughters killed by Jessica’s husband.

Jessica sued the police department under the 14th Amendment:”The state shall not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The property being the three girls.

The police attorney said: “To my knowledge, we’ve never held that the police have an actionable obligation to enforce them [temporary restraining orders].”

Ginsburg asked: “What does the restraining order do then?”

Attorney: “It does two main things. First of all, it gives her rights against her husband, which are enforceable through contempt, and are enforceable by asking the police to enforce them. That is the interest of the restraining order gives her.”

Ginsburg: “But only to ask the police and they’re not obliged to respond?”

Attorney: “But only to ask the police and they’re not obliged to respond.”

Justice John Paul Stevens then asked the attorney: “Do the police have any duty at all, in your view?

The attorney replied: “I don’t believe that the police have any sort of actionable duty.”

So that’s been the precedent for the past 15 years.

Police can protect you if they want to. Don’t have to.

Pretty scary, huh?

City charters say things like “Protect the peace, maintain order, enforce the law,” but no mandates for what police are supposed to do other than what’s required inside police departments themselves.

No democratic control. As on lawyer said: “We don’t use the ordinary ways that we do everything else in government with regard to the police.”


Covid Fees and Covid Inequities. Not All Are Thankful Today.

I’m thankful I don’t have Covid at my age and with my other medical issues. I’m less than thankful that the $300 federal unemployment bonus for PUA recipients seems to have run out and is not being doled out any more.

And of course thankful that we seem to be on a cusp of vaccines that some experts say might curtail the pandemic by late Spring.

(“Thankful” need not have any religious root. It’s just an adjective from the Old English þancful meaning satisfied, grateful, thoughtful, ingenious, or clever.)

I’ll be more thankful when we can dispense with those “Covid surcharge” add-ons to ur bills at various stores. The first to hit me by the obvious signage at the cash register was an extra $3.95 at Supercuts Kaimuki. “Sanitation Fee.”

I’ll address that momentarily. Mainly what I remember from my haircut outing is sharing my good fortune this Day of Thanks.

The stylist — her name is Adele — is a young, local, mother of a 7-year-old boy. She’s getting only 4-hour shifts because Covid has cut back on customers and Supercuts was closed and all workers furloughed for a long time during the lockdown. She fell just $50 short of what was required as her employer’s pay-in to unemployment compensation for her to draw a lost wages benefit. She’s unsure how she’ll pay her $1,200 monthly rent. If you happen to go there, a $20 tip would really be helpful.

Now back to the “sanitation fee.” Employees don’t know much about the origin. One told me “it’s a CDC requirement.” Actually, not. The CDC recommends safety enhancements such as spacing and masking and sanitation. Not a cost factor to be passed to the customer. Another hair salon could charge $5 or $10. It might be hidden in your food costs ask grocers and restaurants. Your doctor and dentist bills.

There are complaints galore across America about these fees, but I fully understand them even as I wish I didn’t have to pay them. It’s at least up front at Supercuts rather than just built into the cost of the service. It supposedly reflects money the business owner spent to protect us and the employees. Of course, we don’t know how many $3.95s will do full reimbursement, whereupon the fee should end.

For many families, finances are already stretched to the limit after months of furloughs and shutdowns. Last week, 1.3 million people filed for unemployment for the first time — the 17th consecutive week the number has been above a million. There are also around 25 million out-of-work Americans set to lose their $600 government benefit at the end of next month, making it hard to find the extra money for COVID-related levies.

I don’t know if my dentist charges a Covid fee. I only get a breakout of how much his work is, what insurance will pay and what I pay. Has he built Covid protection right into his fee?

The American Dental Association says it encourages offices to “disclose additional fees upfront to patients and to document these charges in the patient record,” and says dental benefit carriers should either, “adjust the maximum allowable fees for all procedures to cover the increased costs of PPE or allow an additional standard fee per date of service, per patient.”

This fee might start hitting us everywhere. The University of Michigan is charging a $50 “COVID response fee” for each semester.

Anna Laitin, director of financial fairness at Consumer Reports, has the best last word on this:

“The highest frustration from consumers is when they think they’re paying one price and they get all the way to the end and there’s a hidden fee they weren’t informed about and had no reason to know about.”


“Middle Street” Is The Middle Of Nowhere

Generally, I try to avoid hammering on some subject near and dear to me but not shared by all. I toss out ideas and opinions so you can mix them in with your decision-making process.

This will be an exception. There seems to be an upwelling of social media clamor for the City to stop HART, the Honolulu transit train routing and construction at Middle Street. This would be a very bad outcome for the project.

Yes, it might save about $440 million in building costs. But please give this some thought. A west ender has to drive the car or take the bus from central Kapolei three miles east to the Kapolei station. Walk the 600+ feet from  the parking/bus-drop-off point to the station. Ride the train to Middle. Then take a bus for the long trip on a rush hour, heavily-traffic H-1 into downtown Honolulu or Ala Moana Center. I submit we’d quickly lose much more than $440 million in passenger use.

The Middle-to-downtown bus trip in traffic would equal or better the time it takes on the train ride from Kapolei to Middle.

Many people don’t examine the pluses and minuses. They take their cues from personalities such as civil engineer Panos Prevedouros. They ignore that he ran for mayor on a stop-the-rail theme and was crushed by the pro-rail Kirk Caldwell.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said before: the best solution in terms of cost and convenience would be to end the rail at Iwilei, just short of central Chinatown. Then it’s a walk or a Biki to everything downtown. A quick bus trip to the UH, Ala Moana Center and Waikiki.

The key to that, or even Middle Street, would be finding out if the feds have any objection or would require us to pay back some of the federal money. If that should be the case, we’d have no choice but to push on to Ala Moana Center and eat the cost. Has anybody asked? Not that I’ve heard.

Iwilei/Chinatown also avoid the elevated blight along our harbor, which cries out for development like in Sydney, Hobart, Vancouver and Hong Kong.

Okay, I’ve had my say. It’s your turn.


It Ain’t Always Funny, McGee!

Have you seen the current sign on the Hawaiian Rent-All building on Beretania at McCully? It says the government is trying to cancel Thanksgiving. The most consistent theme of the owners is that government screws things up. But cancelling Thanksgiving? Government is trying to tamp down the size of tomorrow’s gatherings and discouraging travel as Covid-19 ravages most everywhere but Hawaii.

There’s usually plenty of cooking and entertaining stress on a normal T-Day without worrying about who at the dinner table might look okay but be infectious.

If anything about dinner can go wrong, it will go wrong that final Thursday of November.

My wife and I arranged a T-Day dinner for the NBC News bureau members in Saigon in 1972 at the Ramuncho Restaurant. We bought the ingredients at the military commissary and then instructed the Vietnamese on doing the traditional American meal. Here’s the poultry herbs for the stuffing and inside of the bird. The spices for the pumpkin pie.

The dinner came out with a heavy cinnamon taste to the turkey and stuffing. A strong sage spice taste to the pie.

Stories abound of disasters or near ones. And disappointments.

“My first vegetarian Thanksgivings,I attempted to make my own version of tofurky. We ended up with a football-shaped tofu dome filled with stuffing. The tofu the color of carpet and the texture was awful.” 

Bon Appétit says many of you will break your garbage disposal with potato peels, cook the paper liner into the crust of a store-bought pie, and accidentally use powdered sugar instead of cornstarch to thicken your gravy. 

What’s most common? Forgetting to remove the bag of innards or a wad of paper towels in the cavity after drying the turkey.

One family’s distress: “We purchased our fresh Thanksgiving turkey in advance and had to freeze it. The freezer was too small. We forced the turkey in. When we went to remove it to thaw, well, water expands when it freezes. The turkey was solidly stuck. We left the freezer door open for hours but it wouldn’t budge. We pulled out a hair dryer to speed up the defrosting process but the bird held tight. Finally in desperation, we shut off the electricity and cut the lines to the fridge. That finally did it”

And be careful. If the Covid doesn’t kill you, food poisoning might! Two stories about that.

“It was my mother’s first Thanksgiving. The recipe for roast turkey instructed the cook to “wash and dry” the bird. My mother washed the turkey with SOS pads and dish soap, and evidently it didn’t rinse very well.”

“Thanksgiving 5 years ago everyone in my family got food poisoning from my cousin’s cake and they all were gushing gysers out of their butts, except me. I had a seizure and peed myself in the rental car.”

Finally, this caution:

“My Dad and uncle tried frying a turkey. They let the oil get much too hot. It went went up in flames and so did the side of my uncle’s house.”

Have a great one. A safe one. And let Oahu’s firefighters enjoy the holiday in peace.


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