A roadside sign-waving rally by the Stop Cane Burning group was countered Saturday by a demonstration by a larger group in support of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.
One woman, who was part of the anti-cane burning group reported that she mistakenly went to join the other group, which included members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. She alleged that she was called a racial slur, and that members of the pro-HC&S group threw rocks at her.
Willie Kennison, ILWU Maui Division director, said that he was at the demonstration in which more than 200 people showed their support for HC&S. He denied the woman was mistreated.
This anti-cane burning sign-waver, who refused to give her name Saturday, said she was harassed, cursed at and had stones thrown at her when she mistakenly joined the wrong group along Mokulele Highway near Puunene Mill. “I accidently parked there, and oh my God, so much anger.” she said. “People were throwing rocks at me. I heard someone say, ‘Throw rocks at her,’ and then I felt something hit against my face.” She said a person told her to “Get out of here you f---ing haole.” Waving a sign behind her is Dottie Pascual of Wailea. Pascual said that when someone driving by rolled down a window and suggested she go back to where she came from, she responded, “I’ve lived here my whole life.”
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
He said he heard no insults and saw no one throw rocks at her. He said that, if such an incident had occurred, he would have been aware of it.
Kennison said a woman with the anti-cane burning group did come in contact with the HC&S supporters, but she was told "to go home."
The woman spoke to a Maui News photographer, but she declined to identify herself.
Stop Cane Burning organizer Karen Chun said 80 Maui residents took part in her group's sign-waving rally, and she protested the woman's treatment in a communication to HC&S and the ILWU. She provided The Maui News with a copy of her protest via email.
She wrote: "One of the first people to join us was a . . . lady who said she had to run for her life from the sugar mill to where we were. . . . She had to pass in front of the HC&S protesters who she thought was our group, and they started cursing her when they saw her anti-burning cane sign, then they threw rocks at her, while she felt she was running for her life to come to where we were."
Chun said she advised the woman to file a police report.
Maui Police Department Lt. Wayne Ibarra said no assault or harassment report had been filed with police as of Saturday afternoon.
The Stop Cane Burning demonstration was part of a stepped-up campaign to pressure HC&S and the state Department of Health to stop the pre-harvest practice of burning sugar cane fields. Last week, the group reported submitting an anti-cane burning petition with 8,730 signatures to the Health Department and HC&S.
HC&S General Manager Rick Volner Jr. has said that the plantation acknowledges that smoke from any kind of burning can aggravate pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. But he said cane burning is an essential part of making HC&S a viable business, and the company has worked to improve communication with residents through a website, email and text messaging to tell them when and where fields would be burned.
Chun said that HC&S managers have been "dragging their feet on switching to biofuels for a decade, and people are literally sick from the smoke."
"Because of HC&S' procrastination, their workers are being used as pawns to force the Department of Health into granting open air permits that damage our lungs," she said.
Stop Cane Burning organizer Kevin Jackson said that the counter-protest was organized by HC&S.
"HC&S workers are being told their jobs are on the line," he said. "The company doesn't tell them the reason their keiki have asthma is smoke."
Kennison said that the pro-plantation demonstration was organized by members of the community who believed the full story wasn't being told about the good things HC&S provides to the community, including 800 jobs and support for Maui nonprofits.
"We've struggled over the years to maintain the only sugar plantation," remaining in Hawaii, he said. "We know the future is going to be energy, but that can't happen overnight. It's going to take time."
In the meantime, it's necessary to maintain the jobs at the plantation, Kennison said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.