Monday, September 29, 2008


The Hawaii chapter of the NAACP and several other civil rights groups including the Japanese American Citizens League of Hawaii and the Hawaii Women's Political Caucus marched in Waikiki yesterday to protest the continued employment of the state's top tourism executive.

The Honolulu Star Bulletin reports several dozen protesters, representing a variety of ethnicities, waved signs calling for the removal of Rex Johnson as head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority for forwarding pornographic, racist and sexist e-mails from his government laptop.

The issue ignited again this month when racist and sexist jokes denigrating African-Americans, Hispanics and women which had been found in the recovered files from Johnson's state e-mail account were made public. One e-mail called Sen. Barack Obama a "coon" and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a "beaver."

"Today, we are protesting to urge the Hawaii Tourism Authority to either fire Rex Johnson as the CEO and president, or to urge him to step aside or resign," said Alphonso Braggs, president of the Hawaii NAACP chapter, at the start of the march.

"The reason we are doing this is because Rex Johnson, as CEO and president, on paid time, sent out racist, sexist and pornographic material from his computer. It does not matter that he simply forwarded them. It was over a period of time. It wasn't a singular incident."

The protesters also made it clear that they consider the HTA board's refusal to suspend Johnson inexcusable.

In late August, the HTA board voted unanimously to retain Johnson, but it cut Johnson's $240,000 annual salary by $40,000 and reduced his four-year contract to one year.

In August, when the Board refused to fire their CEO, following an audit which revealed Johnson's inappropriate use of the state computer, HTA Board Chairman Kelvin Bloom tried to explain the boards meager action, “He has apologized to the board for his misuse of his state laptop and we have accepted his apology but sternly warned that any future infractions will be treated more severely. The board also issued a verbal and written reprimand to Rex.”

The board of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has now decided to hold a special meeting on Oct. 2 in order to reexamine its decision in light of new information. HTA board members say they hadn't seen Johnson's actual e-mails prior to making their decision.

As does almost everyone caught making racist, sexist and other outrageous comments old Rex apologized and said the emails really didn't represent what he thinks. "As I've said before, first and foremost, I again want to apologize to the people of Hawaii," Johnson said yesterday. "Forwarding offensive e-mails was a lack of judgment on my part and a terrible mistake. While it is not a reflection of my character or beliefs, I understand the seriousness of my actions. I am truly sorry for offending anyone as this was not my intent."

Are you as sick of these kind of apologies as me? How could someone making or forwarding or whatever such sentiments later claim, "uh, that's not me?"

Give me a break.

Protester Kathryn Xian, who is with Girl Fest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing violence against females through education and art, said the HTA board's decision not to fire Johnson sends a message to the public that racism and sexism are acceptable.

Daphne Barbee-Wooten, a civil rights attorney who participated in the march told KHON News, “It's unacceptable to have Rex Johnson still be the CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority with the type of e-mails that he read from his friends and forwarded it onto others."

During the protest, more than 300 persons signed a petition calling for Johnson's ouster.

Waikiki resident William Smith was one of those who signed.

"Johnson is supposed to be bringing tourism to Hawaii — not racism," said Smith.

The following is from KITV (Hawaii).

Tourism President Accused Of Sending Graphic, Racist E-Mails

WAIKIKI, Hawaii -- Protesters marched in Waikiki on Saturday to demand that Hawaii Tourism Authority President Rex Johnson leave his post.

Johnson is suspected of forwarding pornographic, racist and sexist e-mails on his state computer.
The Hawaii Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other activists met by the zoo to make signs and prepare for the protest.

"The goal today is to convey to the public the sense of urgency about Rex Johnson either being fired or him resigning," said Alphonso Braggs of the Hawaii Chapter of the NAACP.

"In the long run, he has given the state a bad name. It is as simple as that," said Gwen Johnson of the Hawaii Women's Political Caucus.

The group walked through Waikiki from the zoo to the far end of Kalakaua. Many tourists, not familiar with the issue, seemed baffled.

"No, I am sorry," said Tommy White, a tourist from Georgia who said he didn't know about the situation. "Rex Johnson? What does he do?"

Some locals worried about protesters' impact on Hawaii's already suffering tourism economy.

"I don't think they should be down here," said Kalihi resident Tim Garry. "Business is already hurting down here and they need positive reinforcement not negative."

Johnson has been president of the HTA for six years. He is being accused of using his state computer to forward e-mails his friends sent containing pornographic, sexist and racist jokes.

On Aug. 21, the HTA cut Johnson's salary 17 percent from $240,000 to $200,000 and limited his contract to a year. But since then, the HTA has found some of the jokes Johnson forwarded on his state computer were not only pornographic but also sexist and racist.

Kelvin Bloom, the head of the HTA, said the board takes the issue seriously and that a meeting has been scheduled Thursday to determine how to proceed.

No comments: