Army drops sign-ban at Stryker hearings

Friday, October 31, 2003

Protesters with signs let into Stryker forum

The ban is lifted after leaders promise no meeting disruptions

By Mary Vorsino

The Army rescinded its ban on protest signs at public hearings on the proposed Stryker combat brigade, allowing more than 50 sign-wielding protesters to attend last night’s meeting.

The sign ban, which led to seven arrests earlier this week, was lifted for the meeting at the Makaha Resort Golf Club after Army officials spoke to pro- test leaders and got a “clear understanding that there will be no disruption in the meeting,” said Col. David Anderson, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii.

On Tuesday in Salt Lake, at the first of six Stryker public hearings, four protesters were arrested for suspicion of criminal trespass when they tried to bring signs into the meeting. Three more protesters were arrested Wednesday at the second meeting in Wahiawa.

Army officials had said they had banned signs to make a less intimidating environment everyone wishing to comment on the Stryker project’s draft environmental impact statement.

Protesters called the ban a restriction of their free speech.

“I think we prevailed because we’re right,” said protester Keith Kajihiro, of the American Friends Service Committee in Hawaii, who was arrested Tuesday. “We had truth and justice on our side.”

Anderson said the sign rule was enforced because the private halls that the Army rented for the public hearings insisted on peaceful gatherings for fear of “potential damage to their facilities.”

But he noted that the Army notified the meeting halls’ managers prior to the hearings to warn them that protesters carrying signs could present a threat to order.

The Stryker hearings continue Tuesday at the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort. The meetings will go to the Big Island on Wednesday and Thursday, at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and the Hilo Hawaii Hotel, respectively.

The Army wants to acquire 23,000 acres on the Big Island and add 1,400 acres to the 27,000 that Schofield Barracks now occupies for new Stryker facilities to accommodate the 310 new eight-wheeled, 19-ton Stryker combat vehicles.

At the three-hour public comment session yesterday, protesters with signs stayed in the back of the hall. Some of those who testified criticized the sign policy.

“It gets me very upset that people cannot, in this day and age, express themselves via signs,” said Frenchy DeSoto, who testified against the brigade. “All I can do is say, Shame.”

There were no security guards at the entrance to the Makaha meeting, as was the case at the past two hearings. But plainclothes personnel from the resort were monitoring the hall, Turner said.

Before the meeting, Anderson mingled with the protesters, reading their signs and shaking hands.

Also outside, protesters like 9-year-old Noa Helela and his mother, Laulani Teale, were busy making signs. Teale said she decided to attend the meeting with her son after hearing about the sign dispute.

“It’s really important that we push the issue of our ability to speak for the land,” she said.

Attorney Eric Seitz said he has spoken to the city and the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of the protesters.

“As far as I’m concerned, I think the Army is totally out of line,” Seitz said. “It’s outrageous to let the Army tell police to arrest people for trespassing.”

Seitz said he believes the Army may have to redo the meetings for not allowing people to testify with their signs.

The four people arrested at the Honolulu Country Club Wednesday night are scheduled to make their initial court appearance on second-degree criminal trespass charges in District Court this morning.

Attorney Wayson Chow is representing them in the criminal proceeding. “This is the first time I know anybody has been arrested for trespassing for holding a sign,” he said.

Chow said the people have been holding signs at public meetings before, and the Army gave no warning of a ban on signs. “The Army just sprung it on them.”

He questions how the Army can hold a public meeting and invite everyone but arrest some of the people who show up to testify.

Star-Bulletin reporter Nelson Daranciang contributed to this report.


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