Curbside crackdown


POSTED: Monday, September 14, 2009

Margaret Dupre says she is exercising her First Amendment right to express herself by holding psychic readings on the sidewalks of Waikiki.

But undercover police officers working in pairs have arrested her and other street performers recently for alleged peddling.

“;I told them it was a donation,”; said Dupre, who goes by the name Mistress BB. “;But they kept on asking me, 'How much do you usually receive?'”;

“;I said $10 to $20, and then they arrested me,”; she said. “;I don't think that that's legal. I think they're breaking a few rules themselves.”;

Street performers say police have stepped up arrests of people setting up displays and services on the sidewalks in front of Macy's and the International Market Place.

At night the sidewalk there takes on a carnival atmosphere—a flutist accompanies a drummer, visitors pose for photos with parrots, an artist paints custom signs while another pens inscriptions on individual grains of rice.

Dupre said her table and tarot cards were confiscated by police and that she has paid several fines totaling $400. She has a court appearance Wednesday.

Meanwhile, she said, “;I don't have any income to pay my rent.”;

Police Capt. Jeff Richards said officers are not singling out street performers, but have received a lot of complaints about loud drumming, sit-down massages on the sidewalk and vendors who block sidewalks, forcing pedestrians into the street to get by.

Richards said he cannot comment on the street performers' insistence that they are exercising their right to free speech—and not soliciting.

“;You go down there, you see the regulars,”; he said. “;They know. They've been arrested six, seven times.”;

Some of the artists say they would be willing to pay for a sidewalk peddling license, but the city offers none. Dupre said she would like to see a system in Waikiki similar to one in Venice Beach, Calif., where people are issued permits on some days and assigned a space.

One sidewalk artist bemoans what he sees as a misuse of police resources.

“;It's like they've got nothing better to do,”; he says. “;They've got prostitutes. They've got drug dealers. We're entertainers!”;

It's not the first time street performers have run afoul of the law.

Several years ago the City Council passed a bill to ban street performers from the sidewalks during certain hours, only to have a judge declare the ordinance unconstitutional.

Honolulu attorney Earle Partington, who has volunteered legal service to assist street performers, said he is meeting this week with the American Civil Liberties Union about the recent arrests.

“;If we have to go back to state court, we will,”; he said.

Partington said to avoid the debate about peddling, street performers should post a sign that says, “;We appreciate donations, but the show is free, if you do not wish to pay.”;