I spent several hours today at the Naue burial grounds, where about 30 protestors succeeded in halting construction on Joe Brescia’s house. But quite remarkably, the Kauai police declined to make any arrests.
And seven guys — all but one kanaka maoli — wanted to be arrested. They’d come together from throughout the islands specifically to make a public statement against the “continuing desecration” of the burials there, and they’d linked themselves together with elbows of PVC pipe, a set up that would require cops to cut them apart.
You can see pictures and video at Ehu Cardwell’s Free Hawaii site.
Some veterans in the Hawaiian rights movement, including Palikapu Dedman, Skippy Ioane and Hanalei “Hank” Fergerstrom, also came to Kauai to provide support.
“We came to the conclusion we have to take matters to a higher level to force the so-called authorities to deal with this,” said Andre Perez of Pohaku O Kane, a Koloa boy now living on Oahu who was one of those willing to be arrested.
From the get-go, though, the cops took a conciliatory, hands-off approach, and the protestors were mellow, too. The first two cops arrived, sirens wailing, at 9:22 a.m., and after checking out the scene, called for back-up. Another two showed up, then another, and they conferred with contractor Ted Burkhardt.
The cops told the protestors that construction had stopped at the site in anticipation of next Thursday’s hearing for a permanent injunction, and the crew wasn’t planning to do any digging work today. If the protesters would just let them do a bit of string work for a site inspection survey, they’d be out of there in half an hour.
The guys said no. The cops said they had to warn them that if they didn’t leave, they’d be arrested for trespassing. The guys said good. The cops backed off, then returned and said Police Chief Darryl Perry wanted one of the protestors to call him.
Apparently they’d had a 1 p.m. appointment with the chief, and he wasn’t pleased that they’d gone to Naue instead of his office. The minutes ticked on.
It rained, and Palikapu invited the cops to come under the tarp that protected a picnic table from the elements. “Come inside, we’re not enemies,” Palikapu said. “No, none of us are enemies,” a cop replied, smiling, and he joined the protestors under the tarp.
(As an aside, the graffiti on the table included a drawing of a man with a big gun, standing in front of a big building, and the words: “Protest this.” Andre, pointing the graffiti out to the cops, complained: “This is the kind of cultural insensitivity we have to deal with every day.”)
Les Milnes from the county showed up to do the site inspection, and at Palikapu’s request, he agreed to return another day. Then the construction crew quickly gathered up its gear and took off.
The cops came back and told the protestors they could all leave now, but the protestors said no. “We’re giving you the opportunity to leave without getting arrested,” one of the cops said incredulously.
“We came here with a purpose and we’re sticking with the plan,” Andre said.
Added Hanaloa Helela, of Oahu: “There’s always the option for you guys to stand down.”
And that’s precisely what happened in the end. After about eight hours, the cops and the protesters all split, with the understanding that construction would cease until the hearing.
I must say, I’d never seen anything like it in all the demonstrations I’ve covered. For starters, there was the PVC pipe thing, a set-up known as a “black bear” that Andre had read about in accounts of logging protests in the Pacific Northwest.
Then there was the congenial vibe between the cops and the protestors. But it was the ending that totally blew my mind, serving as yet another example of how Chief Perry has figured out some innovative ways to diffuse protest situations.
As you may recall, he previously stymied a show-down at Naue when he determined that allowing construction to proceed would constitute a violation of state laws prohibiting burial desecrations.
Unfortunately, his opinion was overruled by the state Attorney General and county attorney and construction commenced. Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe later denied a request for a restraining order to halt construction until the Aug. 14 injunction hearing, and so work has begun at the site.
I was pretty shocked by how much the site — now totally enclosed in a high black plastic dust fence with 24/7 security — had changed in just a few weeks. Previously, the entire site was covered with markers that denoted where 48 burial areas (some 30 of them intact skeletons) had been found.
Today, just 16 markers remained on the edges of the site. The rest were gone, and in their place were 26 large concrete pilings that had been poured to support footings for the house, which must be elevated.
As I looked at the scene, I got a wave of chicken skin that left me with a very bad feeling. Clearly, building luxury vacation homes atop Hawaiian burials is not a good thing.
As Andre had noted the night before: “Who else in Hawaii has to crawl under someone’s house to visit their kupuna?” The answer, of course, is nobody.
While today’s action ended without any arrests, it did serve to generate some local and national publicity and affirm the commitment of those opposed to the ongoing disruption of burials.
“If the governor does not intervene and construction is not stopped, we will continue to mobilize and occupy,” Andre vowed. “We will be back.”
And I have a feeling more guys will join them next time.