HILO — Police have increased the issuing of citations on vehicles traveling or parked near Maunakea Access Road on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.
Demonstrators, who have blocked the access road since July 15 in opposition to the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the mountain they consider sacred, say they believe they are being targeted.
“Basically, since the announcement came out in the newspapers that the Hawaiian Homes beneficiaries own (Maunakea Access Road), we’ve had a very substantial increase of police presence … on the mountain,” said Lakea Trask, one of the protesters who call themselves kia‘i or “protectors” of the mountain. “They really have ramped up their presence there and at the borders of our encampment. They are looking for every and all infractions that they could possibly cite you for — people who have tint that is too dark, mud flaps that aren’t up to code, tires that are too big, people who don’t have current safety inspection or registration, of course. They’re hitting everyone.
“Since last week, there have been four or five days of intense and aggressive traffic and parking enforcement.”
Trask was referring to a Aug. 17 story in which a state lawmaker questioned which state agency has jurisdiction over the access road. The state Department of Transportation controls the road, as stipulated in a memorandum of agreement between the DOT and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Police Maj. Robert Wagner confirmed Tuesday that about 100 citations are being issued daily in the area.
Officials have said the enforcement effort is because the presence of thousands on the mountain has created a potentially unsafe situation. Wagner said the protesters are not being targeted.
“Any vehicle that’s illegal is being targeted, just like anywhere else. Or you can say traffic laws are being enforced,” he said. “We’ve got officers up there, and they’re enforcing the law.”
Wagner said officers are “looking for speeding, weight tax enforcement, cellphone violations, tinted (windshields and windows), seat belts, that kind of stuff.”
Signs have been put up by the Department of Transportation prohibiting parking, loading, unloading, stopping and standing for a certain distance from the intersection.
“They’re going after the parking situation and starting to enforce some existing rules that they’re wanting to get aggressive with our people over,” Trask said.
Wagner said he’s “not aware of any citations for parking.”
“The state put up signs … ‘no parking.’ The signs just went up,” he said. “Police could look for vehicles illegally parked and tag them, but we haven’t done that yet, because the signs just went up. … At this point, we haven’t looked at the definition of what the parking violation is, but generally speaking, we talk about the shoulder of the roadway. That’s considered the parking area.”
Trask described the ticketing as a violation of religious rights.
“It’s like these police were posted up around Haili Church on Sunday, you know, waiting for (services) to get out and ticketing every single churchgoer that they can get. It’s kind of the same thing, being targeted as a Hawaiian,” he said. “We go to the mountain to pray, to enter ceremony. And to be treated like this, you know, it reaffirms our commitment to what we’re doing.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.