Polynesian Community Responds to Police Shooting Report
ANCHORAGE - Members of the Mountain View and Polynesian communities spoke out about the state prosecutors' findings that Anchorage Police Officer Boaz Gionson was justified in shooting and killing Shane Tasi. They’re upset, angry, and sad because it's a situation they say could have been prevented – which is why they still have a lot of questions that need to be answered.
It’s been nearly three weeks since 26-year-old Anchorage police officer Boaz Gionson shot 26-year-old Shane Tasi outside his Mountain View home. Police say the entire confrontation lasted no more than six seconds. They've released an edited version of what happened based on surveillance footage.
But some members of the Polynesian community say that's not enough. They want a full explanation of why Tasi had to be killed instead of just taken down. “I'm pissed that all this happened; if there were three shots why couldn't one disable him?” asked Aitogi Tauanu’u, who is a friend of the Tasi family. “I'm mad because the people that we trust is the police department, but we can not trust them no more, who can we trust now.”
“A lot of them are very sad and a lot of them are saying that this is not right,” said Lucy Hansen, who is president of the Polynesian Association of Alaska.
“It looks like the law enforcement against our minority communities and it’s not because the police officer was Polynesian, the victim was Polynesian,” said community advocate Ma’o Tosi.
Some members of the Polynesian Association of Alaska say there are misconceptions about them as a group that may be contributing to the tension between their community and police.
“We're stereotyped as group, and we are labeled Samoans – beware of them because they are big and strong and they might whoop you,” said Kaneyo Hirata, who is the PR director for the Polynesians Association of Alaska. “We're very loving and we're very genuine; when you have a Samoan friend, you have a Samoan friend forever.”
The group says police officers need to account for the diversity in neighborhoods. “They need to understand different cultures that we have in Anchorage, a lot of cultures are different the way you can approach somebody,” said Hansen.
All sides agree it begins with better communication.
“The Polynesian community is very interested in better dialogue with the Anchorage Police Department, and we are certainly interested in a better dialogue with them,” said APD chief Mark Mew.
“That's the way we communicate, we have discussions,” said Hirata. “Fofo means massage, we try to massage that problem so we can some resolution.” There are multiple remedies that community leaders say should involve finding common ground to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement.
“Whether you’re a police officer or someone from the Mountain View area, I’m certain that's there a movie that you might like together,” said Tosi. “I'm sure there's a sport that we might have interest in together.”
“It takes some time to rebuild those relationships and it’s not something that we work on hard enough all the time,” said APD spokesman Lieutenant Dave Parker. “We are trying to do better in that.”
A community is now divided against the police.
“They are supposed to serve and protect,” said Tauanu’u. “Who are they serving and protecting, themselves or the people?” The question now is how can that divide be bridged.
“It took a death of a man, a young man who had children for us to congregate and try to find solutions,” said Hirata.
“The police have to do the job of the police, there's no way around it, but we are going to be more effective in our society if we can do that with the encouragement and assistance of all our community,” said Parker.
But who will take the first step toward healing? As part of that healing, members of the Polynesian community say there needs to be action like having town hall meetings to discuss situations in neighborhoods. They also say instead of officers coming to the neighborhood only during bad times, they'd like to see police attending community events and cultural celebrations.