CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
Law enforcement officers began arresting protesters this morning on day three at the base of Mauna Kea.
UPDATE: 9:25 a.m.
The first vanload of arrestees departed for Hilo, and the protesters circulated trays of fruit and croissants under their tents while they waited.
“I would implore on the powers to be that perhaps after they’re removed that they not be prosecuted,” said Kaleikoa Kaeo. “They should not be prosecuted as criminals at all. They should be looked at as heroes. They show the people of Hawaii and the world how we should behave in this instance.”
Arrests resumed at 8:54 a.m. and several members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I in black suits and capes stood and walked to a waiting van.
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The arrests then paused again while a medic was summoned for Abel Lui, 76, a longtime Hawaii island activist who had intended to be arrested but began feeling ill.
At least 20 protesters have been arrested so far.
The protesters waited calmly to be arrested one at a time, with teams of officers stepping forward for each of them in turn.
After seven people had been taken away, the arrests paused for a time at about 8:15 a.m., with one organizer joking that it was time for a water break.
The next of the kupuna activists was carefully held under each arm by DLNR officers and led away, chanting.
“Thank you, Uncle Richard,” a woman called from the surrounding crowd as protest leaders and camera-wielding activists pressed forward.
A grey-haired “auntie” was pushed in her wheelchair to the waiting vans, and a man in the crowd called for “unity.”
Some members of the crowd were openly weeping, but the organizers thanked the protesters for remaining calm and demonstrating “Kapu aloha.”
The crowd began to clap and sing, with the kupuna rocking from side to the strains of Hawaii Aloha, and the first two kupuna lay on the ground.
Another nine officers and deputy sheriffs came forward with stretchers and carried the first protesters to the waiting vans at 7:56 a.m.
After some brief negotiations between protests leaders and DLNR personnel on Mauna Kea Access Road, several officers waded into the crowd to address kupuna, or elder protesters.
The kupuna were seated with family and supporters in four rows of folding chairs under tent shelters on the road.
At about 7:15 a.m. officers provided the elders a few minutes to use the restroom or make any final arrangements, and enforcement officers said they would return shortly for those who chose to be arrested.
Protest organizers then herded the crowd back on one side of the tent to make room for two police vans, and one organizer warned the artists to stay out of that space “unless you like take a ride.”
The kupuna chatted cheerfully with one another and with supporters while they waited.
At 7:45 a.m., organizers again pressed the crowd back to make way for about 30 enforcement offices on foot. Those officers took up positions in front of the kupuna and prepared to make arrests as activist Pua Case said a prayer.
Protest organizers instructed both the media and activists to shut down their live feeds as protest leader Pua Case briefed the crowd on the tactics the activists plan today.
Dozens of enforcement officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources watched the crowd from about 100 yards up the road toward the mountain, and a drone buzzed over and around the gathered protesters.
A spokesman from the state warned the media to stay off the road during police activities.
In a ceremony to start the day, members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I in black suits and capes crossed from the camp or puuhonua set up near the Mauna Kea Access Road to tell the protesters that “we stand behind you.”
Both police and protesters have bulked up their presence in anticipation of conflict on Mauna Kea this morning, with more than 300 cars lining the highway near the activists’ camp.
Hawaii County police had gathered near the Daniel K. Inouye Highway just above Hilo by 3:30 a.m., suggesting that rumors that the highway will be closed at 6 a.m. may be true.
Several hundred shivering protesters have gathered at tents set up on Mauna Kea Access Road to shelter the kupuna or elders of the protest, who say they are ready to be arrested rather than allow heavy equipment to pass.
The state announced it would close Mauna Kea Access Road Monday morning, but it is the protesters who have taken control of the lower portion of the road so far this week.
As the sun began to break through the mist on the mountain at 6 a.m., about 300 activists chanted and sang to welcome a day they expect will feature the first arrests of this round of protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope.
The protesters consider the $1.4 billion TMT construction project be a desecration of sacred land. Astronomers say it will advance mankind’s understanding of the origins of the universe.