Protesting government restrictions aimed at stopping COVID-19 in Hawaii got three demonstrators arrested Friday at the state Capitol. About 200 people — many wearing masks — demonstrated against stay-at-home restrictions that rally organizers called an “illegal lockdown” and an unconstitutional attack on freedom.
In addition to the arrests, five demonstrators received criminal citations from Honolulu Police Department officers for violating emergency rules issued by Gov. David Ige temporarily prohibiting gathering in public places.
Ige last week extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 31. Hawaii’s coronavirus cases rose by one to 619 on Friday. The state has the fewest COVID-19 deaths in the nation at 16.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Friday that with the reduced rate of new infections and apparent flattening of the infection curve, officials in the next few weeks will consider opening up more “medium- risk” activities.
But that won’t be soon enough for the protesters who turned out for the “Re-open Hawaii Now” rally, which was organized via the petition website change.org. Some said they participated because of economic hardships due to job losses, while others questioned the health risks of the novel coronavirus and are opposed to government leaders telling them where they can and can’t go.
“My rights, my country,” one woman called out over a loudspeaker. “Not my governor. Not my mayor. We will not be shut down again by the socialist terrorists.”
The woman was one of those arrested and was taken away before she could be asked her name.
A man who was arrested wore a hat associated with Uncle Sam and called out as he was being led away in handcuffs: “Right to assemble! Right to free speech!”
Dozens in the crowd, which gathered on the mauka plaza entryway of the Capitol and adjacent sidewalk, carried signs aimed at passing traffic on Beretania Street.
Some signs read: “Hello!?! Open Hawaii Be Akamai,” “Low Numbers Time to Open,” “Let us work,” “Pickleball is essential,” “Tyranny is nonessential,” “Wake up. It’s a scamdemic” and “Stasi Gestapo HPD just following orders.”
Some political messages also were on display, with several people wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats connected with President Donald Trump and shirts promoting the president.
Eric Bauer said he participated because he hasn’t been able to work his job at a Honolulu restaurant for two months. The Chinatown resident received a citation and said he was threatened with arrest for asking what it was about.
“I’m livid,” he said.
The citation is a misdemeanor subject to a fine up to $5,000, a year in prison or both.
Adrienne King, a former city prosecuting attorney, also received a citation that she said referenced a biohazard. The 72-year-old partner at Honolulu law firm King & King said the police action was overblown, just like the government’s stay-at-home orders.
“They should be ashamed of themselves,” she said. “We have a right to peacefully protest to address grievances with the government.”
Faith Burns carried two signs that read “Let us Work” and “Live Free or Die.” She said she was demonstrating over concerns for others who are out of work due to government orders that have prohibited most retail businesses from operating and limited restaurants to takeout service only.
Burns, a Hawaii Kai resident, said she would like to see tourism resume by June.
“I think we’re not following science,” she said. “I think we can open again because we’re Hawaii, not New York City.”
Jack De Feo from Makaha was in the crowd repeatedly yelling “COVID-19 is an inside job.” He said he took strong exception to having his liberties infringed upon, and called local law enforcement “communists” and “fascists” for their role in enforcing the emergency orders.
“We want our lives back,” he said. “Our political leaders have betrayed us. I object to my country being destroyed from within.”
The loosely organized rally was billed as a means to support freedom and the First Amendment, which says, in part, Congress shall make no law prohibiting people from peacefully assembling.
Separately, the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii is compiling a petition at lethawaiiwork.com to lift the “lockdown” for delivery to Ige.
Friday’s protest, which began at noon, was uninterrupted for 30 minutes until about 20 uniformed HPD officers began advising people that they couldn’t gather. By 1 p.m. the rally had thinned out somewhat but continued along nearby sidewalks with about 100 people.
Naholowaa Gramberg, a passing pedestrian, said he disagreed with the sentiment of protesters, especially after seeing COVID-19 case reports in Japan rise after many thought deterrence measures were a success.
“Right now Hawaii is the safest state, and I think we need to keep it that way,” he said.
Two nurses from nearby The Queen’s Medical Center displayed their own signs on the fringe of the rally with counter messaging that read “Safety First No Premature Reopening” and “We go to work for you — Stay home for us.”
“We just don’t want people to get sick,” said Paula Gallagher, who held the first sign and was wearing work clothes.
Added coworker Dan Ross: “We thought we’d come down and give the opposing view. I think the government is doing the smart thing.”