CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Charlene Chang and fellow Kukui Plaza residents and employees stood along Nuuanu Avenue yesterday to protest prostitution and drug use in the area and support HB330, an anti-prostitution bill that would impose tougher penalties on individuals convicted of the crime. CLICK FOR LARGE
Critics of prostitution take to streets
Residents fed up with prostitution in the downtown area hit the streets yesterday with signs urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would reclassify prostitution as a felony offense.
Prostitution, a petty misdemeanor regardless of the number of infractions, would be changed under House Bill 330 to a Class C Felony on the third offense. A Class C Felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Proponents say the bill would give police another tool to help curb the problem across the island.
"This state is pretty much a revolving door," said downtown resident Rep. Karl Rhoads (D. Kakaako, Iwilei, Honolulu), who introduced the bill.
"It raises the stakes a good deal ... you're talking about real time. At this point, there's no deterrent. If the mere threat can take prostitutes off the street then it's doing the job," he said.
Concern about prostitution downtown heightened last July after a 24-year-old man was killed on Nuuanu Avenue, allegedly by a pimp.
Yesterday, about 40 residents raised signs on the street calling for safer streets and community unity. They wore white T-shirts stamped with the word "Lokahi," Hawaiian for unity. They passed out flyers supporting the bill and educating passerby in the area, which has about 5,000 living units within four blocks.
"We wanted to take the fight to the street where we have the problem," said Alden Kamaunu, general manager of Kukui Plaza at Beretania Street and Nuuanu Avenue.
Kamaunu said the community has been fighting the problem for more than a decade and that residents are tired of being afraid to go out after dark.
At times, 10 or more prostitutes walk the four-block area between Fort, Bishop and Maunakea streets, from after dark to sunrise.
Kamaunu said the key is to have a tougher law that chase prostitutes until they have no place to go. The law attacks pimps, prostitutes and their Johns, he pointed out.
Dolores Mollring, of the Downtown Chinatown Citizens Patrol, took part in yesterday's rally.
The citizens patrol walks the downtown streets Tuesday nights and stages a sit-down one night a month on Kukui Street to deter the prostitution activity.
"It's getting better through our efforts," she said. "The best way is to show support as a unit."
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill's second reading Tuesday, preparing it for an appearance on the House floor for a vote.
Kamaunu plans to continue fighting the crime, by raising awareness with more rallies, possibly hiring an off-duty police officer and throwing a block party to interrupt the illegal traffic.
"We're not going to stop if the bill dies," he said.