FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Downtown residents are mobilizing in protest after a 24-year-old man was shot by a pimp July 1 near the corner of Nuuanu Avenue and Kukui Street. At left, two streetwalkers cross Kukui Street at Aala Street as residents go about their business.
Residents rallying to drive out hookers
Safety of children motivates citizen groups
FIRST OF TWO PARTS
A prostitution-related fatal shooting has jolted a downtown community into confronting a problem that has walked among them, day and night, for too long.
"We're just not feeling safe in our community. To come home at 12 o'clock at night and there's somebody laying dead on your street, it is really frazzling," Joyce Allen, a resident of Kukui Plaza, said about the shooting of 24-year-old Daniel Trulove.
Police said Trulove was shot by a pimp just before midnight on July 1 near the corner of Nuuanu Avenue and Kukui Street, after an argument involving prostitution.
While police say the crime is still under investigation and no arrests have been made, residents and businesspeople have since rallied, both figuratively and literally, to fight the growing problem of streetwalkers and the drugs, violence and other crimes that they attract.
About 5,000 residents live within a two-block radius of the shooting site. Also nearby is Central Intermediate School and many students walk along Kukui Street on their way home to Kukui Gardens and other nearby residential high-rises.
The children heading to and from school, and shoppers going to Pali Longs, the nearby Safeway and other stores, often walk past prostitutes.
Allen, who has two daughters, ages 12 and 13, said, "They could do whatever they want, but not on my street. Especially with kids. A lot of kids walk home by themselves from school."
Some residents say the shooting was another byproduct of a prostitution problem that has been noticeably worse this year.
"Recently, it appears, there has been more of a presence of prostitutes in the daytime. We're concerned about that," said Clifford Hosoi, president of Hosoi Garden Mortuary Inc., on the corner of Kukui Street and Nuuanu Avenue.
"They never used to be there in the daytime, mostly late at night," Hosoi said.
What Hosoi is mostly worried about is the type of people prostitutes attract to the neighborhood. The prostitutes are not usually combative, but they attract seedy people, he said.
Hosoi expressed frustration with the prostitutes who walk the street in view of mourners attending services at his mortuary. "Sometimes, I don't know what to do," he said.
But there has been action recently to confront the problem.
Community members increased their citizens' patrol and have held rallies to call attention to the problem. Police have stepped up enforcement. And the city plans to propose an expansion of the existing "prostitution-free zone" of downtown Honolulu.
The shooting helped everyone refocus on the issue, said Alden Kamaunu, general manager of Kukui Plaza, the state affordable housing high-rise that borders the rear of Pali Longs on Kukui Street.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Residents of Kukui Plaza, Kukui Gardens, Kukui Towers and Kalani HUIA held a sign-waving demonstration against prostitution. From left, Thomas Kim, Nam Kyong Park and Sun Te Pyun participated.
Kukui Plaza was first developed on the border of Chinatown 30 years ago to rejuvenate the district when seedy bars and prostitution were prominent.
Many of those bars have shut down, and art galleries, restaurants and hip clubs now dominate the site. The "Weed and Seed" Program was also established in the area to "weed out" illegal drug activity.
Still, prostitutes and illegal drug activity persist, with more streetwalkers just outside of Chinatown on Kukui Street from Fort Street to River Street.
"Who would've thought 30 years later, we're still trying to rejuvenate the area?" Kamaunu said.
Some believe the prevalence of prostitutes on Kukui Street comes from enforcement of the prostitution-free zone in Waikiki.
"We noticed a great influx of the Waikiki girls being in the downtown area," said police Lt. Rosalie Lenchanko.
A SECTION OF downtown Honolulu, including part of Kukui Street, and Wahiawa were designated as prostitution-free zones through a city ordinance in 2001.
If arrested for prostitution in such a zone, a person faces a petty misdemeanor charge and a possible jail term of 30 days. A judge, however, can instead put the person on probation along with a restriction from entering the prostitution-free zone from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
If the geographic restriction is violated, the court can revoke the probation and impose the jail term.
The prostitution-free zone for the downtown area is bordered by Nimitz Highway, Nuuanu Avenue, the H-1 freeway and Punchbowl Street. A proposal would extend it to Aala Street, encompassing Chinatown.
Though police say the designation can help alleviate prostitution in an area, they acknowledge the problem is pushed elsewhere.
"That's the collateral effect of the ordinance," said police Maj. Randy Macadangdang.
Deputy Prosecutor Lori Nishimura said the prostitution free-zone has helped reduce prostitution in Waikiki, but "there's not a silver bullet."
"It's not the perfect solution," she said.
For years, advocates and experts have contended that prostitution-free zones only steer prostitutes to solicit elsewhere.
"As long as the demand stays high, (prostitutes) will go outside of those boundaries," said Meda Chesney-Lind, professor of Women's Studies at the University of Hawaii, who opposed legislation creating the prostitution-free zone.
"Now we have the problem moving into the communities," Chesney-Lind said.
Indeed, the problem that Kukui-area residents say is plaguing their neighborhood is also being reported several blocks away around the cemeteries along Nuuanu Avenue above downtown.
Some residents and cemetery groundskeepers say prostitutes are being picked up by "johns" along Kukui Street and driven up to the cemeteries, where they have sex in the vehicles.
Resident Puna Ellis, 29, said he recently witnessed a prostitute exiting a car nude along Nuuanu Avenue near Judd Street.
"I was in shock," said Ellis, who described the prostitute as nonchalant as she got dressed on the side of the roadway, then got back into the vehicle and drove off with her john.
"When I saw (her), I was irritated ... This is getting ridiculous," Ellis said, who was born and raised in Nuuanu.
Since January, Ellis said, he has noticed more condoms, and wrappers thrown on the sidewalks and gutters along Nuuanu Avenue.
A lot of children and families live here, Ellis said. "You see kids walking to and from home. They have to see condoms and wrappers on the ground," he added. "It seems to be going farther and farther up the highway from the origin of downtown."
Easy money is lure for dangerous job
"Jade," a 19-year-old prostitute who was born and raised in Honolulu, gives a simple reason for why she works on Kukui Street instead of Waikiki. She doesn't want to accidentally run into a family member.
"If you have a child, you don't want to know that they're selling their body. But you gotta do what you gotta do," said Jade, who has two older brothers.
Jade, which is her street name, and a few other prostitutes who are about her age, stood near the lit Longs Drugs sign along Kukui Street on a recent evening scanning the passing traffic for potential customers.
All said they work that particular spot because it's known for prostitution, where "johns" can find them.
Since a fatal, prostitution-related shooting at Nuuanu Avenue and Kukui Street last month, the young women have seen stepped-up enforcement by police.
"There are more undercovers. ... They're taking down girls' information. Ever since then, it's different," she said.
Yet the prostitutes continue to work the area for another simple reason -- the money.
Jade, wearing a low-cut black halter top mini-dress, tells of how she made $650 so far on a recent afternoon, settling for no less than $200 to have sex with a john.
But when another prostitute asks Jade to leave with her, Jade says she has to stick around. "The phone bill has been due," she explains.
Jade says she was 18 and in Las Vegas when a friend tricked her into prostitution.
After a month, she stopped soliciting and returned to Hawaii, promising herself that she wouldn't return to prostitution while in the isles.
But things got rough.
"Parents moved away ... got stuck with the bills," she says. "Minimum wage is not making it."
"I can understand when people judge (us). I used to judge (prostitutes), saying how can they do that? And now I know ... money," she says.
Jade promises herself that street prostitution is something she will do temporarily, fearing that she may one day get arrested.
"To get arrested for this is really stupid," she said. "It's not worth it.
"I don't plan to do this for the rest of my life. It's just fast money."