Friday, December 6, 2002

Waikiki picketer retains
right to warn of crime

A judge’s ruling allows a man
to carry signs outside a store

By Debra Barayuga

Former Waikiki business owner John Cook will continue to hold signs on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki warning visitors that it is a violent-crime area.

Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna upheld his right of free speech yesterday by denying a request by the owners of an upscale project in Waikiki to bar him from picketing on the public sidewalk fronting their property.

Kalakaua Southseas Owners LLC, which leases space to Gucci, Chanel, Tiffany & Co. and other boutiques at 2100 Kalakaua Ave., had filed suit on Tuesday against Cook, who once owned a popular antiques store adjacent to their property.

The property owners contend Cook has been holding signs fronting their property intermittently since September that say "Violent Crime Area" and "I was beaten to near death at a Marc Resorts Hawaii Hotel" (a block away from 2100 Kalakaua Ave.) in large, bold red lettering.

The other side of the sign shows the pictures of eight individuals with the words "All these people murdered already" running across the photos.

The property owners argue that Cook's picketing presents "irreparable harm" to their businesses and devalues the project, in which they have invested millions of dollars. They say potential customers who see his messages may choose to shop elsewhere to avoid becoming a victim in a high-crime area.

Ted Baker, an attorney assisting the American Civil Liberties Union, which is backing Cook, said police in Waikiki are supportive of Cook's efforts and have not asked him at any time to leave. He said Cook remains on the sidewalk and does not impede pedestrians.

In the four years Cook has been picketing, he goes to that particular location fronting 2100 Kalakaua Ave. only once or twice a week between 7 and 10 a.m. and before the stores open.

"A public sidewalk is a public forum," Baker said outside the courtroom. As long as Cook is expressing constitutionally protected ideas and not harassing or accosting pedestrians, "he has the absolute right to express his point of view."

Cook, 45, who says he is not rich, said he was "shaking" when he went to court yesterday to face the Kalakaua Southseas attorneys. He learned from a groundskeeper at the property on Tuesday that the owners were getting a restraining order against him.

But he was relieved when McKenna denied Kalakaua Southseas' request. He said the property managers and others have been badgering him for weeks insisting that he leave and that they owned the city sidewalk.

Cook said his purpose for picketing at that intersection and other areas in Waikiki is to let people know that Waikiki is a high-crime area.

In 1995 he was assaulted by a drug dealer in the area of the Marc Suites on Lewers. It took him three years to recover from that "horrific" attack, which left him comatose.

His only wish is to warn others. "I don't want what happened to me to happen to everybody else," Cook said.

He had heard about veterans at the Arizona Memorial putting up signs warning visitors about car break-ins, and he wanted to do something similar to let people in Waikiki know that it is a high-crime area.

Cook says he has no dispute with Kalakaua Southseas or any of its tenants but that he pickets at that corner because it is in a high-traffic area that is visible to tour buses and other motorists entering Waikiki.

The property is holding a grand-opening celebration tonight that would benefit local cultural and art organizations. Mad as he is at the property owners right now, Cook said he might just be out there tonight picketing.

Leroy Colombe, attorney for Kalakaua Southseas, told the court yesterday that no business wants someone picketing in front of their store calling it a violent-crime area. "To the extent he's on our property, we have the right to ask him to leave."

He said they are not arguing "not in my back yard," but Cook has all of Waikiki to picket and lots of high-traffic areas he can go where he will not affect any businesses.

"All we're asking is that he not be in front of Tiffany's and saying Tiffany's is a high-crime area," Colombe said.

He argued that since Cook's dispute is with Marc Resorts, he should not be allowed to use them or their tenants as "scapegoats" for his grievances.

Kalakaua Southseas says in court filings that they own the project at 2100 Kalakaua Ave., including the sidewalk along Kalaimoku Street and Kalakaua Avenue. Cook's signs give the false impression that Kalakaua Southseas and its tenants are responsible for his injuries or that there is something going on with violent crime and murders in that area, they say.

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