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Honolulu city officials moved to quash a six-month-long demonstration against a controversial park project in Waimanalo by conducting a mass arrest of protesters Thursday morning.
Closing off Kalanianaole Highway, about 75 police officers and about a dozen police vehicles were arranged in formation at the site. Police say they arrested 28 protesters.
Correction: Honolulu police initially said 33 protesters had been arrested but later revised that number to 28.
The people who were arrested had been seeking to block the arrival of construction equipment at the site. Police said all were booked for obstructing a highway or public passage and were released after posting $100 bail each. There were no injuries reported.
The protesters, who were primarily Native Hawaiians, sang and chanted, passively resisting the police officers. Some called out forgiveness to the people making the arrests.
“We respect everyone’s right to express their First Amendment rights,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at a press conference later in the afternoon. “While people have a right to express their feelings about what we’re doing there, there is not a right to disrupt the community’s daily flow.”
There is strong opposition among Waimanalo residents against construction of a multi-purpose ball field and parking lot there. They say the site is sacred and archaeologically important. Some archaeologists believe the area may be the landing place of the original Polynesian voyagers arriving in the islands and it has long been a burial ground. Caldwell said there are no iwi in the construction area, but community members dispute that.
Some protesters have held vigil there for months to block further construction at the site and have urged city officials to stop work on it.
In June, the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board voted 10 to 1 in opposition to the project.
The heavily treed park is known by residents as Sherwood Forest. Its official name is Waimanalo Bay Beach Park.
Caldwell has said the city was obligated to go forward with the project, which was the subject of lightly attended planning sessions held back in 2010. Master planning for the area started in 2008. If the project did not proceed, the city would lose more than $300,000, Caldwell has said.
Some Waimanalo residents believe Caldwell has different plans for the park, saying that it makes no sense that the city would fight over an unpopular ball field and a handful of parking spaces. The cityʻs original plan called for a regional ball field and up to 470 parking spaces, which Caldwell called a “huge compromise.”
The police appeared at the entrance to the park, where a large sign saying “Impeach Kirk Caldwell” was visibly on display, along with posters calling for protection of Hawaiian lands.
A large crowd of people, most of them Native Hawaiians, gathered to watch, expressing distress and anger at what many viewed as a heavy-handed police presence. They chanted and called out repeatedly, “Aloha aina.”
As Hawaiian children watched, some of them crying, the adults were hauled into the vans.
“Iʻm watching my father get arrested,” said 16-year-old Koanui Wong, holding a Hawaiian flag.
Police carried out some protesters restrained with plastic handcuffs and hauled them into police transport vans.
Bystanders called out “mahalo” to them as they were arrested. Waimanalo kupuna Louisa Keawe, with a flower in her hair, chanted and passed through the crowd.
Hawaii attorney Shauna Kahiapo said that police had blocked her from reaching two clients, protesters who were being arrested.
“They physically denied me access to my clients,” she said.
Kailua Neighborhood Board member Teresa Parsons, who happened along the road as the arrests began and walked over to watch what was happening, called it “an incredible waste of money.”
“It’s a shame when they arrest veterans for standing up for their rights,” she said.
Longtime Kailua resident Joy Gillan also saw the arrests and said she was shocked. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
At the entrance to the park, protest leader Kuike Kamakea-Ohelo, who was not arrested and who spoke to a large group of other followers who had not been arrested, said that Hawaiians will continue to seek to do what he called “hold the site.”
“We need change and this is how it happens,” he said. “All of Hawaii is under siege.”
He told the crowd not to engage in any kind of fight with police or city officials and to focus on keeping things safe.
“The fight does not stop here,” he said. “The fight is not with them.”
When the police vans were filled up, police moved in formation on each side of the park entrance, using their bikes as shields and creating a barrier for the entry of a large forklift.
The forklift was moved down the road into place, guarded by police, and demolition at the site began anew.
In front of news cameras in a downtown city office building on Thursday afternoon, the mayor said he was grateful for civility on both sides of the conflict.
“I was moved by everybody, by the police and by those who didn’t want this project to proceed because everyone handled themselves with dignity and respect for each other,” he said. “There was a peaceful process where people got a chance to express their rights. The Honolulu Police Department deserves an incredible amount of gratitude for how they conducted themselves.”
Caldwell said the project has “a significant number” of supporters who are not as vocal as protesters.
“These are people from Waimanalo, but they’re people who don’t want to get into the fighting and to be exposed,” he said. “It’s not as simple as ‘Everyone is against it.'”
Without a public poll, Caldwell said he doesn’t know if opponents outnumber supporters. Even if it was determined that there are more people who oppose than support the project, he said the city will proceed anyway.
“At this point, we want to get this done,” he said. “I felt sad today watching the emotion and stress, and I’d like to see healing occur.”
As the protest at Waimanalo unfolded, Honolulu City Council members spoke in support of their effort.
“It’s not worth it to tear apart a community to build a park,” said Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who called for a halt to the project on Facebook.
Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi filed an open letter asking Caldwell to “start the process over and work with the people of Waimanalo instead of effectively ignoring their concerns leading to the devastating situation we witnessed today.”
“People are asking just for what we already have to be properly maintained as opposed to these ‘nice to have’ projects that are costing us millions,” said Tsuneyoshi, who cited opposition to projects at Ala Moana Regional Park and the Blaisdell Center.
“As the situation unfolds, I think it highlights a bigger issue we’re having in the city and state about paying attention to what the people are asking for.”
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