There is much to learn from the recent Good Friday incident at Deacons, St Michael. There is a lot that has been said and even more that has not been revealed. But above all the hurly burly and spin from some quarters, and the unusual silence in other circles, the scenario that might return to haunt John Public is the jeering youth who reportedly taunted members of the Royal Barbados Police Force as they departed from that community with their ‘tails’ proverbially between their legs.
There have seemingly been attempts to twist the narrative of what has been reported and what has been deduced from the related facts of last week’s incident. The script reportedly had nothing to do with black or white, rich or poor, housing area or heights, small business or big business. Those were convenient distractions and weighted subterfuge designed to evoke emotional responses, especially among those who find it impossible to look beyond their political prejudices.
There are some who suggest that businessman Ross Ashton, at the center of the Good Friday incident, should not have telephoned Prime Minister Mia Mottley under the circumstances that obtained on the day and that she should not have entertained him. Many are pointing to his two illegal drug convictions and current pending criminal cases as the raison d’être why there ought to have been no call made to the Prime Minister. To this, we totally disagree. As Miss Mottley has indicated, she is the Prime Minister of all Barbadian citizens, and Mr Ashton had every right to telephone the Prime Minister and she did absolutely nothing wrong by taking the call. We do not know the nature of their association, if any at all, nor are we aware of the root of his belief that a call to Miss Mottley would have impacted the police’s actions. What we do know, though, is that he had the same right as any other citizen to reach out to the country’s political leader. But truth to tell, that is the minor part of the events that unfolded.
An intrinsic part of Barbados’ democracy is the separation of powers and the vesting of the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government in different bodies. This is enshrined in the Constitution and the police force answers to the Governor General. It is true, though, that over the years various governments have meddled in the affairs of the Royal Barbados Police Force, and created divisions through promotions, transferrals, supersessions, training opportunities, and the like. The police force is a significant power base and politicians are keenly aware of the leverage they might have at their disposal, if they can influence the upper levels of the power structure. One can often gauge political affiliations and loyalties by supersessions and post-retirement appointments, whether they be consultancies, diplomatic postings or board appointments.
What we suggest is that as an attorney-at-law of exceptional skill, Prime Minister Mottley’s legal training should have triggered acknowledgement of the concept of separation of powers and alerted her that the slightest hint of involvement in the proceedings on Good Friday – directly or indirectly – could create a firestorm and be construed as a constitutional breach. Had Mr Ashton called to complain about the increase in petrol at the pump, or about COVID-19 legislation that has created concerns for homeowners and their rights to their properties, then no one could fault anything emerging from that consultation. But a terse: “Ross, I have no jurisdiction over the police and you should contact the Commissioner of Police” was reportedly not heard on speaker phone. It should have been!
There has been confusion for some in the interpretation of the COVID-19 directives. Since the Good Friday showdown, many persons have queried whether a kiosk or a cook-shop qualifies as a restaurant. Some have debated whether Mr Ashton had a restaurant licence on April 2. Others have wondered whether, in keeping with the directives, those persons sitting at the tables and socialising in the park had already exercised. A few have even pondered if Guyanese businessman Hamenauth Sarendranauth would have been spared remand or still be alive if he too had access to any politician’s phone number. There are many questions being asked and they have absolutely nothing to do with the red herrings of status or residential location.
While we have had at least three responses from Government on this incident, we find it curious that retiring Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith has made no public statement on the matter. Police officers would have gone to Deacons to carry out a lawful duty as they saw it. Why did they not carry out that duty? Were they aware that they were not subject to the advice of Prime Minister Mottley and could have simply and politely ignored her? And if they were not aware of this from their training, why not?
We have no reason to doubt that Prime Minister Mia Mottley is being utterly truthful that she had no conversation on the matter with recently appointed and soon-to-retire Deputy Commissioner Oral Williams or Assistant Superintendent Debra Thomas. But what is the police force saying? What is Mr Griffith saying about accusations of discrimination being levelled against his officers, most of whom, we believe, are from working class backgrounds?
So, what happens now? How is this area christened as the “Red Sea” to be policed? Those jeering youth are now emboldened youth. Though Prime Minister Mottley would not have intended it so, impressionable minds in that community could be forgiven if they now believe that the real law and order in the Red Sea lives among them and on one of the holiest days in Christendom, he demonstrated it to them with just one phone call.