Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Musings: Chief Says "No"

I wasn’t going to blog today, because I have so much to do, but when I checked out The Garden Island on line this morning, the news about Chief Perry halting construction at the Naue burial site was such a stunner I had to delve into it.

In an amazing turn of events, Perry said construction on the site could violate a law prohibiting desecration of burial sites. The article reports:

“Unless we have a directive or some kind of documentation or some kind of decision that is made at a higher level, as far as we’re concerned, if construction begins on this burial site, they’ll be in violation of Hawai‘i Revised Statutes,” Perry told protestors and workers.

“I’m aware of the statute and do not agree with his (Perry’s) interpretation,” said Walton Hong, attorney for property owner Joseph Brescia.



Not only did Perry’s action diffuse a very heated situation — the article reports that workers had moved a gate and were preparing to tell protestors to leave and begin filing trespassing reports when the Chief had his officers “stand down” — but it opens up a very intriguing legal question: how is it that burials are regularly disrupted when we have HRS 711-1107(b) on the books?

Or had Brescia failed to secure all the approvals he needed? The article reports that in light of the chief’s action, Brescia yesterday had submitted a burial plan to the State Historic Preservation Division. But from the DLNR spokeswoman's comments, it seems there already is an SHPD-approved burial plan.

[Update: I just talked to Ka`iulani, who said about the unexpected outcome: "You could have knocked me over with a feather. I told everybody, keep praying, no matter what, just keep praying, and I'm convinced that's what did it."]

Needless to say, Perry’s leadership in this issue should serve to dispel criticism that he’s too heavy handed in responding to demonstrations. It also seems to me to indicate that fairness, as he told me when I interviewed him a while back, is one of his overriding concerns.

I did, however, have to wonder where reporter Michael Levine came up with this bit:

Perry announced that construction would not begin, drawing a loud round of cheers and mahalos from protestors, including some 30 men in matching black T-shirts who may have been “Lua” — members of a secretive ancient Hawaiian martial arts sect that serves as an unofficial police force.

First, lua isn’t “secretive” — there’s been a book written about it — second, it isn't a “sect” and third, the guys don’t “serve[s] as an unofficial police force.”

The article concludes with:

Looking forward, KPD Assistant Chief Roy Asher said the issue will be addressed by the judicial system. 

“It’s in the courts now, which is where it belongs,” he said.

Yes, that is where this issue belongs. And how much wiser of the Chief to put it into the system this way, rather than through an untold number of trespassing cases that, aside from all their drama and angst and potential for conflict with the police during arrests, would allow construction to continue while they wend their way through court.

The police apparently were not relishing a confrontation, either, with one supporter describing on the radio how some of the cops "were crying" when Ka`iulani invited them onto the site to "say hello to the kupuna."

The Chief said in his column last Sunday that “I truly hope and pray that there will be a peaceful resolution to this issue.”

Looks like he figured out how to make that happen.

8 comments:

Katy Rose said...

Does it belong in the courts? Courts are one place where aggrieved people find relief and protection sometimes, but remember - "Jim Crow" was legal until pressure in the streets changed popular sentiment.

Larry said...

The courts, imperfect as they might be, are one of the few things we have left to remind us that we are supposed to live in a democracy rather than a police state.

I spoke to a law school professor the other day and asked if they are still teaching, given Guantanamo etc., that people are innocent until proven guilty and that every person has a right to habeas corpus. You bet, he said.

Perry could have acted differently. It's very refreshing that he chose to err on the side of an interpretation of the law to prevent the construction. That's more than they would do in, for example, Seattle. If the courts say it should go forward, I'm sure he will see that the order is enforced. Meanwhile, no irreversible damage is done to people or property while the matter is sorted out.

I was very impressed. Perhaps there is a little corner of this country that can still give the rest of us some hope.

Anonymous said...

ah yes, the power of prayer.....

Anonymous said...

....and the power of protest!

Anonymous said...

cut n paste comment
from planet kauai:

kudos to chief perry. his intervention has elevated the stakes and has resulted in another reprieve. the issues of who and how many protesters seems insignificant compared to the chief taking the law into his own hands. i'm sure his brother gave him plenty advice on how to play this one. chief perry for mayor!

Anonymous said...

HIP HIP HOORAY!

KOOHAN

Anonymous said...

Maybe Perry has as big of a crush on Joan as she has on him...

Anonymous said...

what a crock. He didn't make a peaceful resolution. He just kicked the can down the road for a bit. We'll be right back in the same spot if/when the courts rule the desecration law doesn't apply and the Burial Council rules prevail.

I'd say he just copped out.