Thursday, November 22, 2007


Hawaii police actions, more on Tasers

by Larry Geller

So you think it can't happen here? Check out what took place under Governor Cayetano's undeclared "unified command." I think this would be the last comparable police action in recent state history. It was certainly a coordinated effort, and characterized by an unexpected clash between Cayetano and the press.

In June, 1996, armed state deputy sheriffs, National Guard soldiers and other state law enforcement officers cleared Makua Beach. Helicopters hovered overhead and patrol boats were offshore. Bulldozers waited for the armed forces to clear the beach of squatters before moving in and leveling anything left behind.

Believe it or not, the police tried to arrest reporters, according to this Star-Bulletin story:

At the start of the eviction, state deputy sheriffs also threatened to arrest television and newspapers reporters and accused them of obstructing the operation.

Remember, in those days people didn't have digital cameras, cellphone or video cameras. So with the press barred, Cayetano was able to conduct most of his action out of public view. These days, having private video coverage is one way to make sure that police actions can't be kept from public scrutiny.

Press coverage serves not only a documentary purpose but a protective one. A cop behaves differently if lenses are focused on the action.

Concentrating for a moment on the press issue, Another story:

"Clearly the state had made up its mind it wanted no media at the site of the arrests."

Some of those arrested and later bailed out felt the media should have been present to document the incident.

"I think the media should've been allowed to film the indignity of the eviction," said Kaleo Patterson, one of those arrested.

Media attorney Jeffrey Portnoy also questioned the state's decision to bar the media. He said it is reasonable for public safety officials to balance the need to conduct legitimate government functions with the First Amendment rights to the public.

"The question is a matter of degree." He said officials should have sat down with the media in advance to discuss arrangements, regardless of when the evictions were to take place.

Cayetano's argument that the media needs physical protection is "bogus," Portnoy said. "It doesn't need the assistance of government to tell them of danger."

Now, the state must have known it was breaking the law. Even Cayetano must understand that there is a First Amendment. But clearly, he didn't care. He didn't get any jail time for it, either, of course. Go figure. It's just our Constitution that was disregarded. But no consequences.

Ok, sorry, I can't resist this one, because of the great picture of David Shapiro on the page:

More likely, the governor barred news coverage of the evictions because he didn't want you - the voting public - to see his little army pushing around Hawaiian squatters. He was afraid you might not like what you saw.

In looking back at the coverage, I can't find any article indicating that anyone was physically hurt. This raises questions about how present Governor Lingle would handle her declared "Unified Command." So far she's been very ham handed in her public relations on this issue. How would a conflict go with Lingle in charge?

More on Tasers

Here's a new Taser incident that happened just three days ago.

I'm not suggesting that Tasers will be used against anyone who protests the Superferry. We, as citizens of this state, should make sure that they are never used against anyone as casually as police are using them on the Mainland.

And on water cannons

A comment on an earlier post mentioned water cannons. As it happens, I was searching for pictures to post of water cannons because they could be used against demonstrators.

I decided in the end to skip it, because water cannons have not been used in this country against demonstrators in umpteen years. But the subject is worth at least a mention. Water cannons cause broken bones from falls and ruptured spleens, among other damage. The injury to internal organs may not be noticed by someone who is hurting or by emergency medical personnel. Or if someone is hauled away to a jail cell. Then they suddenly die.

So I think we all hope that Lingle's "Unified Command" will not put Hawaii on the map by using asymmetrical force against demonstrators. We see, through this video and other examples, that trigger-happy and poorly trained cops might just tase someone casually. That person is being punished, tortured even, without trial. The cop is the judge, jury, and possibly the executioner.

The same concern should be applied to the use of clubs, hooks, nets or other means of extending force should there be demonstrations in the water. Regardless of one's position on the ferry or on demonstrations against it, I hope that we will stand as a people against the use of militarized and potentially deadly force.


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