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Occupy Honolulu protesters remove their tents

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 8:55 p.m. HST, Feb 2, 2012

City officials moved in to Thomas Square at 1:15 p.m. to begin the cleanup of debris left behind by Occupy Honolulu protesters who had been camping on the sidewalk.

The protesters began breaking down their tents this morning. Trish Morikawa, the city’s housing coordinator who was leading the cleanup, was accompanied by several police officers. One person was reportedly arrested for obstruction of government operations, which is a misdemeanor.

The action follows the issuance of 24-hour removal notices on Wednesday morning under a new law prohibiting the storage of personal belongings on city sidewalks.

City crews stood by to remove any belongings left on the sidewalk along Beretania Street and Ward Avenue. But at about 9 a.m. two city dump trucks and city crews drove away to help cleanup the sidewalk around Aala Park, where about 17 removal notices were also issued to homeless campers on Wednesday.

Only four tents remained on the sidewalk in front of Thomas Square at 8:45 a.m.

Owners were told they had until 9 a.m. today to remove tents, furniture, suitcases, bikes and other personal items or the items would be confiscated and taken to the Halawa base yard and stored for 30 days. Unclaimed items would be sold or destroyed.

Protester Chris Smith said he removed some personal items so they wouldn’t be confiscated. But he said he has no plans to leave the park.

"I'm here to make a stand, not to play games with them," said Smith, who said he came to Hawaii on Nov. 1 to help organize the local protest movement.

The Honolulu protesters are part of a broader movement that is largely demonstrating against disparities in the nation's economic system.

City officials said Wednesday that they received roughly 30 complaints about the protesters camping on the sidewalk.

Morikawa said the protestors can remain and hold their signs at Thomas Square. However, no personal property will be allowed to remain on the sidewalk. She said the issue at Thomas Square is not one of free speech, but of storing private property on government property.

The Occupy Honolulu encampment began Nov. 5 at Thomas Square, just before the start of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings. The protest moved to the sidewalks on Beretania Street and Ward Avenue after police arrested eight protesters for camping in the park after the 10 p.m. closing time. Those cases go to trial on Feb. 8.

Police arrested two more protesters on Dec. 29 when city officials determined the boundaries of the park extended to part of the sidewalk. Protesters then moved to the portion of the city sidewalk next to the curb.

Occupy Honolulu participants met with Mayor Peter Carlisle shortly before Christmas and were told that he would not offer them any exemption allowing them to stay at the park. The campers had requested the exemption, citing the First Amendment right to free speech.

Carlisle signed the sidewalk storage ordinance into law on Dec. 9 and the city began enforcing the law on Dec. 30, when workers notified several property owners in Mililani that basketball hoop structures placed on public sidewalks were in violation of the ordinance. All owners promptly removed the structures, the city said.

In January, city officials issued 25 removal notices at Pawaa In-Ha Park -- at King and Kaheka streets. Another 19 notices were issued to homeless campers at Moiliili Field and Old Stadium Park. City crews also used the ordinance to remove the belongings of homeless campers in Iwilei, where 38 notices were issued.

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