On Jan. 21, a group of Maui community members gathered in Wailuku for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade. The marchers came together to honor the civil rights leader and display the solidarity of peoples of diverse backgrounds regarding fundamental issues of peace, justice and equality. The simple march from High Street to Wailuku Coffee Company on Market Street involved sign holding, airing citizen concerns and reflecting the civil rights protests of the ‘60s. It turned out, fittingly, that Maui’s Martin Luther King Jr. parade was also an act of civil disobedience.
Word began spreading in early January through the African Americans on Maui Association with a warning: “We need to alert all Parade Participants per the Maui Police Department: It is a County Ordinance that no one is allowed to carry signs, but may carry photos of Dr. King or banners of their organizations. Please be advised that the Maui Police Department will issue tickets should anyone carry signage.”
The MPD’s threats turned out to be hollow that January day, as the police officers looked on while the demonstrators held their signs and marched the road to Market Street, but the conflict hasn’t stopped there. On June 20, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a lawsuit on behalf of Chuck Carletta and Mele Stokesberry of the group Maui Peace Action over the “unlawful ordinance.”
“The law at issue is so broad that it effectively prohibits campaign sign-waving, protests, picketing, parades, or other demonstrations across large portions of three islands,” said ACLU of Hawaii Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck in a June 20 press release. “It is illegal for County officials to enforce these rules against some protesters but not against others, and it is illegal for the County to allow police officers to break the rules for messages the County supports.”
Part of the ACLU Hawaii’s argument asserts that the “these regulations are not narrowly tailored, and therefore burden substantially more speech than is necessary to achieve any purported goal(s) the County may have.” The other part of the group’s argument is that the regulations are unfairly enforced, “such that Defendant COUNTY is engaged in content based discrimination and viewpoint based discrimination.” ACLU Hawaii asserts that the ordinances are enforced–or threatened to be enforced–against some protesters but not others, while the County routinely permits Maui Police Department demonstrations for County sponsored messages, such as drunk driving prevention.
Carletta, a plaintiff and activist of Maui Peace Action noted the absurdity of limiting free speech on a day devoted to the honored civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., stating, “More than any other holiday, Martin Luther King day is a meaningful time to exercise our rights to free speech. It is also a day to celebrate Dr. King and the civil rights and peace movements that he sacrificed his life for. We were stunned when we found out that the Maui County Police department was threatening to issue tickets to anyone in this year’s march carrying a sign with any written messages!”
The other plaintiff, Stokesberry, seemed hopeful. “We carried our signs in the march in January, as did many others, in spite of the threats and we are delighted that the ACLU of Hawaii is willing to stand up for us and to seek to overturn this egregious ordinance,” she said.
Before bringing the lawsuit to U.S. District Court, ACLU Hawaii contacted Maui County in an effort to amend the ordinance. The County refused.
“The ACLU has still not served the county with the lawsuit yet,” said Rod Antone, the mayor’s spokesman. “But our attorneys are speaking directly with ACLU Hawaii Senior Attorney Dan Gluck about this matter.”