By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
GOOD Samaritans raised $700 to pay court fines for a teenager who was arraigned earlier this week and convicted for selling coconuts roadside without a business licence and in violation of the 24-hour curfew.
The story of Jason Williams’ legal woes, reported by The Tribune earlier this week, made the rounds on social media, eliciting an outcry from some who saw the matter as an injustice against a young man trying to make a living.
In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, the 18-year-old said in a society where too many young black men fall victim to gang violence and other crimes, he knew he wanted to be different from others and control the course of his own life.
So, about a year ago, he started his own business, selling coconut juice and jelly to locals and visitors throughout Nassau.
But, what was supposed to be another regular business day for Mr Williams last Friday ended up being the complete opposite. The teen was arrested around 3.20pm on May 15 for selling coconuts in breach of the national curfew and COVID-19 emergency orders.
Officers told the court on the day in question, the 18-year-old admitted to not receiving permission from the competent authority to be outdoors during the curfew.
Police also said after Williams failed to produce a valid business licence, he told them he was “working” on one. As a result, he was arrested and taken to the Grove Police Station.
Recalling the “frightening” experience yesterday, Mr Williams said the arrest made him “feel like a criminal,” despite him never having a prior run-in with the law.
He said: “I mean it made me feel like a criminal even though I’m trying to do right and trying to stay out of harm’s way and at the same time, trying to help my family. So, to be in the law hand, it just isn’t right man.
“… It was a little frightening for me because it isn’t like I’m a criminal. I don’t be up around those places. I mean they just doing their job and you can’t beat the law. But yeah, they should’ve used a little discretion towards me because it ain’t like I’m a bad person. I’m trying to become someone.”
Noting that life has not been easy for his family since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mr Williams said he was just trying to make ends meet. His sister, he added, was the only one in the household who has been working since the pandemic.
“I just was selling coconut juice and the jelly to try to make something for me and my family,” he added. “It’s me, my mother, my father and my sister and my sister has kids. That’s the only person who was working through this COVID thing.
“So, I mean I just had to help my family out and make sure that they’re okay, mainly myself too. And, I like doing coconuts. I ain’t gon’ lie. I like doing coconuts and I want to be my own boss. I don’t want to work for people.”
He was arraigned on Monday and pleaded guilty to violating the curfew and operating a non-essential business. He was ordered to pay $700 in fines or spend one month in prison. Calling the situation “disheartening”, local activist Khandi Gibson told The Tribune yesterday after she read about the teen’s ordeal online, she knew she had to help him. “That really broke my heart...because the prime minister spoke about ‘where is your heart, where is your compassion,’” she said.
“I’m like, my gosh, one minute y‘all saying let’s build up the young men and in another, you want to say let’s haul them before the court. And so, I feel like this is so wrong, especially during COVID-19 now.”
She made a post on Facebook and friends from Canada said they would pay half of his fines. Others came forward to donate the rest.
Mr Williams said he was shocked when he received a call from Ms Gibson, saying she and her friends would pay the fine.
He said: “I was already saying ‘where are we going to find this money from’ and my mummy ain’t working and thing and that was the only way I was making money so I was saying ‘I mussy was going jail.’ But something came around and God made a way and my bill was paid. Thank God for that too.”
Mr Williams is also thankful for the outpouring love and support expressed towards him on social media, noting that it was “a source of comfort” for him during those difficult days.
Asked yesterday what’s next for him, the teen said he will work on getting his business licence and also, his record cleaned.
“The good news is a woman said she is going to help me get my licence and like how she help me, I want to help others too and other people who coming up and in need. I could help them too,” he said.
Ms Gibson added: “It doesn’t stop here for him, what happens to his record now? I want his record expunged. This has to come off his record. This has to (as well as) many others who’ve been in this situation. We’re going to fight for this.”