Law enforcement on watch for armed protests

Hawaii law enforcement officials are on watch following an FBI warning that extremists who support President Donald Trump could stage armed protests in Washington, D.C., and in all 50 state capitals when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated Wednesday.

In the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol building, Kenji Price, the U.S. attorney for Hawaii, issued a statement calling the Jan. 6 siege an “assault on democracy” and advising that authorities here “must also do the preparations necessary to ensure the safety of our communities during the presidential inauguration.”

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Although concerns on the Big Island appear relatively low key, Hawaii Police Chief Paul Ferreira said last week that he and his officers are “not taking it lightly, like it cannot happen.”

“Right now, we’re still playing it by ear. We’re still seeing what’s going on,” Ferreira said. “And we’re listening to what’s coming out of the FBI, and there’s a couple of conference calls that are happening … as well.

“We’re very cognizant of what’s going on across the nation. But when you look at Hawaii as a state, just because something happens on the mainland doesn’t mean it happens here,” he said. “You know, the attitudes are different, the makeup of the islands are different. With the Black Lives Matter protest, it was here, but it was peaceful. There were large protests across the state, but it was very, very peaceful.”

Price, the chief federal prosecutor for the state, said “the people of Hawaii should rest assured that the federal law enforcement community will use its resources to prevent harm to our government infrastructure, elected officials, and, most importantly, the people in our communities.”

“Notably, the FBI has established response protocols to address any threats to the safety and security of our communities in connection with the transition of leadership in our country,” he said.

Price said his office will continue to “work hand in glove with the FBI, and any other appropriate law enforcement entity, to ensure that we investigate and bring appropriate charges against anyone who violates federal law in connection with the presidential inauguration.”

“Those who choose to jeopardize the peaceful transition of power, or otherwise unlawfully wreak havoc in our communities, should know that my office will do our part to ensure that they are unsuccessful and that we create a path for them to spend time in federal prison,” he said.

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Last week, state officials placed traffic barricades and erected chain-link fences around the state Capitol grounds in Honolulu as deterrents to would-be trespassers.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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