The civil rights group files suitBy Gordon Y.K. Pang
against the city, saying an
ordinance will repress
freedom of expression
A city ordinance designed to curb street performers in Waikiki threatens to shut down free expression by those with any type of religious, political or artistic leanings, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
That's the reason the ACLU is suing the city to overturn the law, which is scheduled to take effect July 12.
The ordinance requires musicians, mimes and other street performers to obtain permits to perform in six designated spots in Waikiki.
Brent White, ACLU legal director, said the ordinance affects more than just street performers.
One of the ACLU's clients is Shawn Kawelo, who leads the Greater Mount Zion Holiness Church youth group. White said the rights of Kawelo's group -- which sings, reads Bible passages and preaches in Waikiki every other Friday -- are jeopardized.
Also being represented by the ACLU in the case are street magician Steve Williams and saxophonist Steve Sunn, who goes by the name Sonny Beethoven.
Supporters of the ordinance say the performances pose health and safety hazards as crowds gather and spill from sidewalks onto busy Waikiki streets.
White said city officials cannot point to any specific instances where an injury was caused directly as a result of a performance.
The street performers are used to being in front of or near the Kalakaua Avenue side of International Marketplace but the six designated sites, White said, "are on the outskirts of Waikiki, except for one on Kuhio (Avenue), and even that's a bad location."
White said he was told the Customer Services Department had not yet adopted rules or informed the street performers what they need to do.
"They're all scared they're going to get arrested come July 12," he said. "They've called the city on numerous occasions and haven't got any response."
City officials said yesterday that applications for street performance permits are available.
Carol Costa, customer services director, said police will distribute applications and fact sheets to street performers Monday night.
Waikiki Councilman Duke Bainum said he is disappointed with the ACLU's action.
"They chose to ignore the health and safety aspects of this problem," Bainum said, noting that Waikiki police joined Waikiki merchants in offering strong testimony for the ordinance.
Bainum dismissed White's contention that there is no direct connection between street performances and traffic mishaps. "Are they saying they have to see blood before there's a problem?"
City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said those not generally considered street performers, such as Kawelo's religious group, may or may not be in violation of the new ordinance.
"It depends on the circumstances," he said, adding that the ordinance is supposed to apply to any entity acting "in a manner intended to attract the attention of the general public."
Civil rights attorney Daniel Foley is co-counsel in the case against the city.