The rules keep changing. We are getting some of what we asked for, but not all of it makes sense. It does not seem as though the decisions will be explained without a considerable amount of pressure. We are one week away from the opening of the borders to commercial flights yet the curfew remains in place, albeit it starts an hour later.
There are questions about the curfew and whether or not tourists will have to abide by it. What does social distancing on vacation look like? Will they be required to wear masks in the hotels? Will the size of their groups be restricted? How will violations be handled?
Importantly, what is being done to protect frontline workers in the tourism industry? They will come into contact with numerous people, exchanging greetings, money, keycards, products and invisible matter. How will we ensure they remain safe?
This is cause for concern as Jamaica had 14 new COVID-19 cases in one day last week, all imported from the US and we are watching as the numbers in Florida climb daily. Dr. Delon Brennen has said there are no policies to eliminate risk in letting people enter the country, so the focus is on minimising the risk.
It is a relief that the government has decided to require COVID-19 tests for any visitors entering The Bahamas. The tests are valid for ten days, so there is ample time for people to contract the virus before coming here. There is still a chance that asymptomatic people will come here and be in direct contact with us.
Should we assume the government has already assessed the risk and come to the conclusion that the health system can handle the repercussions? Has it accepted the fact that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon? Perhaps the second wave is a foregone conclusion and it has been decided that we will do what we can for the economy while we can. We have, after all, managed to flatten the curve and present The Bahamas as a safe destination. We are left to hope that it will be safe for us too.
Restaurants are open for outdoor and indoor dining with 50 percent occupancy — with the exception of Arawak Cay restaurants for no conceivable reason — and beaches and parks will be open next week.
There is ample opportunity for people to congregate and be without masks for the majority of their outings. Why, then, do we still have a curfew? We know many people are now laid off or unemployed and there aren’t many opportunities to make money under the current conditions. We all know crime will increase as people become more desperate. Is the curfew an attempt to manage that? If so, it would be respectful for the government to communicate this to us and stop expecting us to accept that it is directly related to the effort to contain COVID-19.
It has been interesting to observe the use of masks - and the failure to use masks - in Parliament. Members of Parliament, if they were masks, remove them to speak. Those not speaking can be seen with no masks on. What makes them different? Are they not able to contract and pass on the virus, or do they simply not care? The emergency order does not seem to apply to them. We can watch Parliament proceedings or see clips on the news and the message is clear. The rules do not apply to everyone.
Masks are meant to protect us from each other. We should behave as though everyone we come into contact with has the virus. The masks should be treated as though they have trapped the virus. We are not supposed to touch them until we are able to immediately wash our hands. When we do touch them, it should be from the strings or elastic that secure them on our heads. This needs to be made clear, in word and in example, so that people know what to do and what not to do.
Do not pull the mask down at the front. Do not wear the mask below the nose. Do not take the mask off to talk. Do not let the mask dangle from your ear. This may seem like common sense, but one trip to the bank or grocery store you will find that it is not common. In fact, security guards ask everyone entering financial institutions to “pull the mask down” and look into the camera before being allowed to enter. This security measure seems reasonable, but we should not be touching the masks.
The same issue exists for dining in restaurants. We need direction on how this should be handled or an explanation of why it is suddenly safe to remove and replace our masks while in public space. We want the restrictions to be relaxed, yes, but it all needs to make sense.
Policing as we know it is just not working
We have had a policing problem for a long time. Recent stories have highlighted some of the issues. We are told body cameras and dashboard cameras are on the way. We know there needs to be greater accountability from the Royal Bahamas Police Force. There are too many police-involved killings that are reported, but we rarely hear about investigations. It is left to bereaved family members to fight for answers about the deaths.
In an on-camera interview, the mother of a recent police shooting victim reported that his car was not turned over in the same condition in which it was taken from the scene. Most obvious were the missing windows. Police say the occupants of the vehicle fired at them first, then police returned fire. The missing windows, of course, are cause for concern as they would have served as evidence of the direction of the bullets.
According to reports, police saw the car parked at a cemetery during a funeral. When they approached, the car left. Police later saw the car through a corner and approached. There is no indication of the reason for officers’ interest in the vehicle nor its occupants. The mother of one of the occupants said they were known to police and knew better than to fire at them.
When there are killings by police, the go-to excuse is always “officers were in fear for their lives”. It seems to make people think the police made the right decision. We do not talk about de-escalation. We don’t ask how police knew the victims or for records of their previous engagement. We never get the full picture. We get the narrative of fearful police who reach for their weapons and fire, aiming to kill.
In the US there is sustained conversation about defunding and abolishing police. Many have come to the conclusion that policing doesn’t work. The entire system is flawed and beyond reform. The concept of defunding is about redirecting resources so that institutions with trained professionals can respond to calls. Social workers, health professionals, mental health experts, community workers and other underfunded and high-demand practitioners become first responders as they are trained to properly assess situations, de-escalate as needed, provide services and make referrals. Police, on the other hand, are trained to see problems and want to eliminate them. Their framing of the problem, however, makes the person the villain rather than recognising the challenge the person faces and working to address that challenge.
There is a reason people take their misbehaving children to the police station or threaten them with a visit. We are taught to fear police. We understand them to be brutes. They use force. They can do whatever they want without consequence. Children know this. We know this.
The sooner we realise this approach is not working for us, the better. It is time to design a different system. We have the opportunity to learn from countries that have made changes already and our northern neighbours who are having important conversations that give us the opportunity to listen, research and contextualise.
Policing as we know it is not working. If it did, we would not have as many killings by police, roadblocks, people fined or locked up for breaking curfew, backlogged cases, or “no car available” responses when we call them for help.
For most of us, we have a few people we would call before we call the police because, on some level, we know there is a faster, safer, more reliable way.