Lawmakers have raised their voices in calling for measures to be put in place to ensure greater equality among residents and greater transparency and accountability among the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF).
Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley said he did not believe enough was being done in Barbados to address the issue of inequality and “deficiencies in the system” at all levels.
He argued that people from urban areas “where poverty is rife and community erosion is evident” were not being given the same opportunities as people from the heights, terraces or gardens.
Joseph also suggested that people were not being given some opportunities based on the school they attended, the clothes they wear or the brand vehicle they drive.
“I speak to equality of deserving – the person who is in ‘class B’ is equally deserving of opportunities as the person in ‘class A’,” said Atherley.
“I believe in Barbados we don’t have so much a problem with race as we do with class,” he said.
The issues were thrust under the microscope on Tuesday when Parliament resumed and parliamentarians introduced a Private Members’ Business Resolution in light of the recent slaying of a black man by police in the United States.
The resolution was to confirm that “Barbados would be more than willing to contribute human and other resources and to participate in any regional, hemispheric or international initiative that is aimed at providing assistance to nations that are currently struggling with their national efforts to eradicate racism in general, and anti-black racism in particular”, according to Parliament documents.
Atherley argued that the issue should include inequality, poverty and the lack of access to resources.
“It must matter that there are too many people who live below the poverty line in Barbados. It must matter that there are people who are barely eking out a living in Barbados of 2020,” said Atheley.
“We have to address ownership patterns in Barbados – ownership with respect to land and capital and business opportunity,” he added.
He suggested that legislation governing the ownership of land by foreigners be reviewed.
“These things fall immediately within our power to address – the ugly business of alien land holding legislation which still allows privileged people blessed with capital to find a place upon which they can ensconce themselves here occasionally for relaxation and entertainment – not investment – while the majority of us cannot own what we call a piece of the rock. I believe that that legislation needs to address such,” said Atherley.
Adding that while slavery had been abolished, “the notion of stewardship is very much still alive”, Atherley said: “We need to move beyond that and become successors with respect to ownership of land and business and capital because black lives matter, because all black lives matter.”
He also raised the issue of the administration and dispensation of justice, saying there were still many people sitting in prison waiting for a hearing and it gave truth to the maxim ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.
“No one is suggesting that there is a mischief put in place to ensure that it happens, but certainly the system should be made to have such facility that we can treat to that matter in a better frame,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said while he did not believe there was generally any problem with police brutality in Barbados, he believed there was need for greater independence, transparency and accountability in the process of how issues were dealt with when there were alleged injustices by members of the police force.
Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds said he agreed that many Barbadians were faced with “a denial of opportunity”, an equitable distribution of resources and those things which can “empower them”.
He expressed dissatisfaction that some people have been offered “large concessions” to invest in Barbados but the way they have treated labour was less than desirable. This included the offering of three-month contracts.
Stating that people have found different ways to “suffocate the working class people in Barbados”, Symmonds said inequalities still existed in the areas of access to capital and technology.
Singling out coconut vendors, the St James Central MP suggested that those operating in the informal sector should be facilitated because “their lives matter”.
“[They] need a helping hand up and the Parliament of Barbados must be the place and the ministries of government must be the source of that assistance in the same way that it was the source of resistance in previous years,” said Symmonds.
He said he did not think the concern should be whether the issue was about race or class in Barbados.
“That is an artificial dichotomy. The reality of this thing is that the working class is the majority of black people in Barbados.
“We all know that skin colour in Barbados gives opportunity to many things and denies opportunity equally to many people,” he said, adding that the country had reached a point where it must decide how do we close the “circle of enfranchisement” and give black people the economic opportunity that they have been denied historically.
Meanwhile, Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment Marsha Caddle issued a call for greater transparency and accountability of police.
“I want the police to be trusted by citizens because if the police are trusted by citizens it makes them more effective at their jobs and therefore it makes us all safe,” she said.
“So we need to have a police complaints authority that works, that responds in a timely way. We need to have a culture, tradition, a practice, that if there are questions around any kind of police activity they can be easily answered with records, with evidence, that we make this business transparent because suspicion and distrust destroy societies,” said Caddle.
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