I keep a number of famous quotations posted around my office at work, and one of my favorites has always been from Voltaire: “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” There’s something both heroic and chilling about calling bullshit on the powerful–especially when we live in times when government officials at all levels are becoming more aggressive towards skeptical citizens who find themselves disagreeing with the official line.
Government’s anti-speech actions range from military and espionage agencies spying on domestic organizations (especially if they’re Muslim) to police officers arresting people who try to record said police officers going about their official duties. Newspapers and blogs are filled with stories detailing these kinds of adversarial encounters, and they seem to be getting worse.
You’d think a laid-back place like Maui would take a more relaxed view to political protests. Not so. Last year, Maui Police Officer Nelson Johnson physically assaulted MauiTime Publisher Tommy Russo when Russo wouldn’t stop filming Johnson in the very public Wailuku Municipal Parking Lot.
This year, MPD has taken to harassing a group of activists calling themselves Occupy Monsanto, who spent last week camped out on the public highway fronting Monsanto’s operation–home of all sorts of genetically modified seeds–in Kihei.
Seriously, these guys were just standing on the roadside waving signs. That’s it. They weren’t tearing down fences, throwing rocks at cars or marching onto private property. At most, there were a couple dozen people out there at any given time.
Yet the harassment got so bad (activists filmed two incidents in which cops told them to move along and posted the footage on their Facebook page) that the activists now have legal representation from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Hawaii office, which wrote to the County of Maui’s Corporation Counsel’s office on Jan. 24 to protest the actions by the MPD.
“The protesters are approximately thirty feet from the roadway,” ACLU Hawaii staff attorney Daniel Gluck wrote. “Our understanding is that this is public property and that no statute, ordinance, or rule prohibits this protest or limits this type of activity to certain times of day.”
The county reacted quickly to Gluck’s letter (ACLU Hawaii is also representing former Kihei resident Tess Meier and her husband Jamie in their fight against the City of Honolulu for busting up their perfectly legal “Go Topless Day” protest last August), writing back a mere 24 hours later. Of course, Corporation Counsel attorney Moana M. Lutey denied that any harassment had taken place.
“None of the protestors [sic] have been arrested, cited, or threatened with arrest or citation for protesting at Monsanto,” Lutey wrote. “Instead, the protestors [sic] have simply been asked to comply with the same rules that apply to sign waivers (i.e. maintaining a certain distance from intersections for traffic safety, do not stand in the middle of a divided highway, etc.).”
Yet the video posted on the Occupy Monsanto website clearly shows a Maui Police Officer telling protesters they had to leave. “You’re not supposed to be here,” the unidentified officer tells one of the activists. “You need a permit.”
Lutey wrote that “it is my understanding that the protestors [sic] have been leaving at nightfall” and that “it is my understanding that the protestors [sic] leave of their own volition and not as a result of any threats by MPD.”
In fact, the same video posted on the Occupy Monsanto Facebook page shows the same MPD officer telling the activists “no camping”–meaning, they have to vacate at night.
Where is the “traffic safety” issue here? Since when does someone need a “permit” to stand on the side of the road?
If it’s legal and fine for political candidates and their minions to stand on roadsides waving signs, then it should be legal and fine for the Occupy Monsanto people to do so on the public roadside outside Monsanto’s property. Seems ACLU Hawaii agrees with me.
“No government official has given any basis for the statement that the safety of the protesters, the drivers, or the general public is at risk,” Gluck told the Corporation Counsel’s office.
Photo: Ian MacKenzie