By FARRAH JOHNSON
KHANDI Gibson, founder and president of the local advocacy group Families of All Murder Victims (FOAM), is calling on the government to quash the conviction of a teenager who was fined for selling coconuts on the side of the road last month.
At the time, news of Jason Williams, pictured, the 18-year-old who was fined $700 for selling coconuts roadside in breach of the COVID-19 emergency orders, sparked national outrage. In a press statement, Ms Gibson said the teenager is now “burdened” with a criminal record that stifles his chances of success.
“There is no doubt or dispute that COVID-19 and this state of emergency impacts the poor more harshly than the middle and upper class,” the statement read. “While well-off or financially stable Bahamians can manage to stay home from work for approximately two months, the poor cannot afford to miss one pay period.”
She added: “To add insult to injury, poor persons who have, in desperation, ventured out to sell coconut water on the roadside — bearing in mind that water sales were deemed essential and being sold from trailers on the side of the road — a teenage boy was arrested, convicted and fined. This teenager, seeking an honest living, is now burdened with a criminal record. His chances of getting a US visa, going to college or securing gainful employment in the future have been shattered. Meanwhile, the privileged and connected in this country get warnings and absolute discharges.”
Ms Gibson said the assistance from the government “cannot and have not” helped everyone in “dire need” during this crisis. She insisted that the less fortunate that are forced to sell items on the side of the road and tote water from public pumps to their homes “cannot afford to comply with the prime minister’s orders,” because they are living from paycheck to paycheck. She added that it appeared as if the “poor were being required to stay home and starve.”
“The public ought to remember that governments do not bow to the demands of a lone voice. What has been proven time and time again, especially in the year and months leading up to an election is that there is power in numbers, agitation, and demonstration. The citizenry is asked to agitate for the competent authority to be compassionate. That can be done by a public announcement to quash the record of the young man convicted for selling coconuts on the side of the road.
“A few months ago, the PM indicated his intent to quash the record of persons convicted for small amounts of marijuana. Yet nothing has been done. It is time the PM does more than selling us dreams. We are awake, disappointed, frustrated and organising to rid ourselves of members of Parliament that have failed to make this term, ‘The people’s time.’”
In her statement, Ms Gibson also called for the Official Opposition, along with members of Parliament and activists to work together and “agitate for the competent authority to show compassion, starting with the young man convicted of selling coconuts. “Every member of Parliament that remains silent on this issue has voiced their position,” the statement read.
“As the citizenry makes notes of the issues that demonstrate that its them — politicians and the connected — against us, the marginalized voters, this issue of showing compassion for the poor during this health, economic and democratic pandemic will be remembered, and on this, they will be judged in the months leading up to elections.”
Mr Johnson faced a prison term of one month if he did not pay his fine. Ms Gibson and others donated the sum of his fine to spare the teen prison time.