Friday, June 19, 2015

Sex, Violence, and Tourism

Complaining about tourists is a favorite past times here. Sure their dollars keep our economy running. And yes, I get it. They’re just so awestruck by rainbows, beaches, and scenery that they have to drive 5 miles below the speed limit to snap photos instead of pulling over. But, why must they do it when we’re trying to get to work?
Academics and activists argue that tourism damages the host culture. The businesses, shows, shops, and industries that have built around tourists have cheapened the experience of being in Hawaii and are a form of imperialism, they say. Perhaps, but this isn’t new. More than a hundred years ago, Maui saw clans of the rowdiest, harshest, and meanest tourists you’d ever see.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Maui had a savage tourist industry thanks to whaling. It was no cake walk getting here. Yankee sailors started out on the Eastern seaboard, usually Massachusetts. From there, it was due south skirting the shores of the Brazil and Argentina. They’d head west to round the treacherous Cape Horn between Antarctica and South America in order to reach the Pacific.
A whaler’s life was rough. The crew was confined to sleeping in small rooms under the deck. The food was atrocious. Sailors ate salted meats, hardened biscuits, and used cockroach-infused molasses to sweeten their coffee.
The tedium was interrupted by the actual whaling part, which was extremely perilous. When the ship spotted one, whalers would jump into a small boat, row up to the behemoth, and stick it with harpoons. If you weren’t thrown from the boat in frothing waters with a massive cetacean, there was the risk of getting the boat crushed by the whale itself.
And when you finally slayed the beast and got it aboard, the real work of converting every imaginable piece into some commodity like bones, oil, blubber, and even meat took days.
Needless to say, by the time ships were within sight of the West Maui Mountains towering above Lahaina, everyone was ready to get off the boat. The whalers started coming to Lahaina in the 1820s and continued for another forty years or so. The town’s banner year was 1846 when 429 whale ships dropped anchor (only 167 stopped in Honolulu that year). It wasn’t the whales that attracted them. The port was a much welcomed break and vacation spot. Arguably, the whalers were Maui’s first tourists—and they were really bad.
Bars and grog shops started popping up. Not only that, but the ships attracted locals from all over the island to entertain the crews—especially young women. Promiscuity, booze, and rowdiness ruled the day.
Local chiefs and resident missionaries weren’t happy. They passed laws prohibiting the sale of liquor, commingling of crews and women, and jailing offenders. The sailors and the businesses catering to them didn’t care. A constable complained that there were so many places to buy booze that he could not “get a fair chance to fine them.”
Riots ensued. In the early 1820s, the governor of Maui at the time discovered women snuck aboard an English whaling ship in violation of the laws. When the captain was ashore, he held him hostage. The captain’s first mate demanded his released in an hour or else his ship to open fire on the town. He was released when he promised to return the girls, but the ship fired its cannons anyway. They were aimed right at the mission house on Front Street. When the captain returned to the ship the firing stopped and they headed out to Honolulu. The girls were never returned.
Then there was the time in 1843 when a crew of drunken whalers tried to kidnap King Kamehameha III, who resided in Lahaina. They were met by angry locals hurling rocks at them. Their leader was struck to the ground and dragged over to a nearby fort. A riot broke out. At the docks sailors and locals hurled rocks and obscenities at each other. Skulls were broken and it’s unclear if anyone died. It wasn’t until officers with swords showed up before the sailors started to calm down.
Thankfully, American whaling is over. The discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania made the pursuit of sperm oil in whales pointless. The industrial revolution after the American Civil War finally brought about the death knell to the industry. These days, our visitors are less fierce. Sure, tourists speeding down Front Street on mopeds without a helmet, common sense, and sunscreen are obnoxious, but at least they’re not kidnapping and pillaging.

Much has changed since the riotous nineteenth century, but one thing remains constant. It’s still against the law to wander the streets and lanes of Lahaina with a drink. Folks get cited from time to time. The missionaries would be proud.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hawaii's Obsession with Criminalizing Being Outside

Jalisa Jose was on vacation celebrating her twenty-first birthday. At around two in the morning, she and her girlfriends sat down to rest along the famous sands of Waikiki Beach. After having a seat, the police came out of nowhere and cited her for breaking the law. Jose and her friends were ordered to appear in the Honolulu District Court long after their vacations would be over. These ladies aren’t alone.
Hawaii News Now reported last month that one in five of the citations issued for the new anti-homeless law are tourists. The police issue the citations to anyone they see in the famous park after midnight and late-night carousing tourists are getting swept up in the dragnet with the homeless.
The irony is just spectacular.
The law was designed to help tourists like Jose enjoy their vacation and spend money. When it was passed in 2014, then-Councilman Stanley Chang announced that “the reason we have gone to such extraordinary lengths is because the homeless issue has impacted residents, visitors and the workers of Waikiki in a way that existentially threatens the economy of our community.” Nice one. Tell that to tourists like Jose who get cited on vacation and vow never to return.
This new crackdown on having a seat is nothing new. It’s another chapter in Hawaii’s quixotic quest to criminalize being outside.
          One summer’s day, the police cited Camelio Anduha for “loafing or habitually loafing” on Liliha Street in Honolulu. Anduha went to court and argued that a law criminalizing loafing, loitering, or idling on the public streets and sidewalks was unconstitutional.
The trial court agreed, but the prosecution appealed. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled for Anduha and in doing so proved to be prescient about Jose’s case:
“Visitors, lured by the fame of our climate and of our natural scenery and the hospitality of our people, come here for recreation and pleasure. Many of them, having no other occupation, habitually but harmlessly idle or loiter upon our streets and highways. In their pursuit of happiness, which is a guaranteed right, they loiter before shop windows, pause to enjoy the changing colors of the ocean and to talk with friends. . . . Also, there are persons who, taking advantage of the leisure they have on the Sabbath, habitually go for long hikes along the public highways. When weariness overtakes them they stop for rest. Attracted by the beauties of the landscape they loiter and idle for as long as they chose. . . . Is the legislature empowered to declare them lawbreakers?”
          The Court struck down the anti-loafing law. That was in 1930—eighty-five years Jose and her friends got their citations in Waikiki because they were sitting down on the sand in the middle of the night.
But bad ideas die hard in Honolulu. Decades after Anduha’s victory, another challenge arose.
It was 1970. James Lavin and Craig Grahovac were charged with a law similar to the territorial anti-loafing law. Both were accused of being a “person who wanders about the streets at late or unusual hours of the night, without any visible or lawful business.”
At their trial, the police testified that they were spotted at 1:00 a.m. walking through a part of Ewa Beach on Oahu at a place that where “youths congregate and sniff paint.” Lavin was incoherent; Grahovac was disheveled. They were found guilty. Lavin was sentenced to jail for nine months. Grahovac got six. They both appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Again the Court struck down the law. Simply put, criminalizing the act of “wandering” at “late or unusual hours of the night” was too vague to be constitutionally sound. The Court explained that such the law “subjects a pedestrian to the unbridled discretion of an officer whose standard for law enforcement is equally nebulous.”
Forty-five years after Lavin and Grahovac exercised their seemingly constitutional right to wander around paint-sniffing spots late at night, the Honolulu City Council has criminalizing the act of sitting or lying on a sidewalk throughout the city.
This year the Council passed a bill that extended the ban beyond Waikiki and criminalize sitting and lying on sidewalks all over Oahu. Mayor Kirk Caldwell, however, vetoed the measure because he feared that it couldn’t withstand a constitutional challenge. But on Wednesday, the Council overrode the veto and extended the ban. Now the stage is set for another constitutional challenge. If history is any guide, Caldwell could be on the right side of history.

But that’s no consolation for tourists like Jose. She missed her court date when she flew home. The citation and possible bench warrant has left a bad taste in her mouth. It will only be a matter of time before the law gets challenged. Perhaps Jose is the next Anduha or Grahovac.