APEC: Security Trumps Freedoms

Young protestors show the grade they’re giving APEC. AP photo from Bob Jones

I blow hot and cold about the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

It’s gone overboard arguing that T-shirt vendors had a right to be on Waikiki sidewalks and that the homeless can’t be targeted when they squat on public sidewalks, beaches and parks.

But it has been a steady beacon for our right to protest.

Our country was born out of the right to protest. Now we’re told we need a permit to protest, or we can’t protest here or there. So ACLU-Hawaii posted a “protest tool kit” for the APEC days that said:

“Generally, you have a right to stand or march on sidewalks without a permit as long as you are obeying traffic signals and not blocking the sidewalk. Generally, small groups can use City parks without a permit, but getting a permit may be a good idea even if you don’t technically need one. If you march in the street without a permit, you risk arrest.”

Obviously you cannot “occupy” public property with tents, stoves and furniture. You can protest and depart.

The APEC restrictions were reminders that if we don’t keep defending the right of people to peaceably assemble short term, we’ll see it nibbled to death by authorities who consider it a nuisance.

What happened here was a serious curtailing of that right by citing “national security” and declaring huge restricted zones.

You were not supposed to be near the Hale Koa, Sheraton or Hilton Hawaiian Village hotels (but a few people briefly waded into the Waikiki water with antiAPEC signs more media at this than protestors!) You were not to float a boat off the Waikiki or Ko Olina hotels.

Police did escort some protestors from Old Stadium Park to Ena Road nowhere near where APEC chiefs could see or hear them. Police closed parks.

Diamond Head crater was closed the two days President Obama was here to be the security command center in a National Guard bunker there. The state closed Iolani Palace for no obvious reason and just said “security” if you asked why.

Agence France-Presse filed a story saying APEC “brought the heaviest security since the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 70 years ago.”

The Sunday, Nov. 13, New York Times? Not one word about APEC!

We can understand security concerns in these terrorism times. But it seems those are often inflated as a way to work around peaceable assembly of the people.

The First Amendment has been watered down by a federal law that says entering any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds where the president or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting is a crime.

The word “grounds” becomes a quarter of a mile. Then a mile. Then five.

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