Saturday, November 01, 2003
[ OUR OPINION ]
Don’t prosecute Stryker protesters
The Army rescinded its ban on protest signs at hearings on the proposed Stryker brigade after seven arrests at the first two hearings.
DEMOCRACY can be messy and even unruly, a characteristic that escaped Army officials who scheduled a half-dozen public hearings on its proposed training ground for Stryker armored vehicles. The hearings were booked at halls tending toward the genteel — country clubs and the like. It took two hearings for the Army to come to its senses and realize that First Amendment rights must prevail over any desire for sedate proceedings. Sign-bearing protesters barred from two hearings may attend the remainder, according to the Army’s retreat.
The Army generally has held hearings in school cafeterias, but were “constrained by time” at those venues, according to one Army spokesman. Instead, hearings on the Stryker operation were booked at private meeting halls. In the first two hearings, sign-carrying protesters were barred from halls at Honolulu Country Club at Salt Lake and at the Helemano Plantation in Wahiawa.
Col. David Anderson, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, said protesters with signs were barred from those hearings because managers of the halls were concerned about “potential damage to their facilities.” Indeed, Paulette Lee, Helemano’s operation manager, complained about “signs that are on sticks. People don’t realize that that can be a weapon.” (Actually, none of the signs were on sticks.)
Anderson said the Army warned the meeting halls’ managers prior to the hearings that sign-carrying protesters could be disorderly. In any case, the barring of sign carriers from the hearings and the arrests of seven protesters who tried to enter the Salt Lake and Wahiawa halls were inexcusable. Criminal trespass charges against them should be dropped and apologies extended.
Anderson’s explanation conflicts with earlier statements by Army officials that they barred signs to create a less intimidating environment for other people attending the hearings. Army spokesman Troy Griffin said the Army “didn’t know the ground rules” for the private halls when they were booked, but he also complained that the protesters’ “agenda is to break up the meeting, and we’re here to gather testimony.” The Army’s explanations are both confounding and contradictory.