“So today I’m going to be a black man,” he said, reading from papers into a microphone.
Deputy prosecutor Kyle Dowd’s main reaction: “Just bizarre,” he told The Washington Post.
“I cannot be more adamant that there was nothing about the case — the facts or the way the evidence came out or the way our department prosecuted it, the way the judge [presided] over it — there’s nothing that relates to any racial issues regarding African Americans whatsoever,” he said.
The victims in the case were Filipino and white, he added.
Char’s use of face darkening — a practice with a long, racist history, and which has landed politicians, comedians and others in hot water — drew reactions from others at court.
“This continues a pattern of disruptive behavior designed to undermine the administration of justice,” said the presiding judge, Todd Eddins, according to Hawaii News Now. Minutes entered online in Hawaii’s court records system note that the judge said he “has no doubt” that Char, who is not black, was sane throughout the trial and “fit to proceed” despite his appearance.
Hawaii News Now reported that a person in law enforcement believes Char used a black permanent marker to color his face.
Char has been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, after a jury found him guilty of second-degree attempted murder and second- and third-degree assault. At trial, two victims said Char used pepper spray on them when they tried to get out of their car after Char cut them off on the freeway and braked, according to the Honolulu prosecutor’s office.
Char stabbed the two men with a knife, the prosecutor’s office says, and then injured a “Good Samaritan” who intervened to stop what he thought was a fistfight. The jury rejected Char’s claim that he acted in self-defense.
The Post was unable to reach Char. His court-appointed lawyer, whom Char reportedly railed against as “incompetent” in court on Monday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Char had been violent before, Hawaii News Now reported in 2016. Neighbors said they feared him, and Char faced felony charges including terroristic threatening, assault and negligent injury before the attempted murder.
Dowd said Char has been difficult to work with, at times refusing to be transported to court. His sentencing date had to be postponed after Char said he was too ill to appear, Dowd said, and the man interrupted the judge repeatedly.
“I can’t speak for the judge, but that the fact that he showed up like that yesterday — at least for me, I think everybody just wanted to get it over with,” Dowd said.
While Dowd believes Char’s use of blackface Monday was “totally unrelated to Mr. Char’s personal opinions on African Americans,” it follows other incidents that have sparked concerns about racism, especially toward blacks, in Hawaii.
Last year, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim was criticized when he referred to an African American Federal Emergency Management Agency official as “that colored guy in the back there” at a public meeting. The FEMA employee, Willie Nunn, laughed the incident off, a local news report said, but others called Kim out for racist comments.
“I admire Nunn’s graceful response — his priority is to address a natural disaster, after all — but having a top public official call a black man a 'colored guy’ in 2018 is not so funny,” one writer remarked. “It’s unfortunate.”