ALICIA WALLACE: Is the curfew still in place because we know the more desperate people become, crime will rise?

Closed beaches have been a common sight over the last few months.
Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

Closed beaches have been a common sight over the last few months. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

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.


Porcupine 4 years ago

Ms. Wallace,

All what you say is true. Why is there such a lack of empathy, and even less real thinking going on around us? Isn't this the most important question? For the life of me, I just can't fathom the disconnect. I used to put a lot of faith in education. Now, I see an abundance of educated selfish idiots. Use the US president and our own PM, for examples.

themessenger 4 years ago

Ms. Wallace, Your views on policing are seriously out of kilter. Yes we do have some neanderthal types on the force but to subscribe to the lunacy which is overtaking the US and the UK to some extent is simply that, lunacy! As a parent I have never had to discipline my children with threats of taking them to a police station. The lunacy of defunding and abolishing police forces is nothing more than an invitation to anarchy. Do you and the other idiots think that the criminal elements will simply cease and disist in their activities? Do you honestly believe that social workers, Healthcare specialists and mental health care workers can protect the law abiding members of society when they have a 9mm or AK47 in their face? Who you going to call, mummy, Grammy, your phyciatrist ? People like you must live in a bubble as you obviously have no concept of how many Bahamians live in fear day in day out under the influence of the gun. Take away the police and the threat of their guns, who then stands between us and chaos? There will always be police misconduct and even brutality but in the final analysis what is the lesser of the two evils?

Porcupine 4 years ago

The lesser of the two evils would be to look hard at what has gone on in your own lifetime. There is a saying that a true criminal learns their art inside prison. With 2.2 million people in prison in the US, the highest percentage of any industrialized nation, one would think decent people would look at some advancements made, and at least try to implement some. The history of policing, along with the profit motive for incarceration should be enough for evolving, intellectually capable people to start questioning "how we do things". Your responce is the reason why I place so much emphasis on the youth. We adults are just too set in our ways and seemingly intellectually unable to imagine a better place. It is either nostalgic for the old ways, or completely scared about trying new ways. And, an inability to see the complete failure of our present ways. I think you are wrong on this. Do some research on the prison system. It is not there for the average person. It is there to protect the rich and their property. Too much has been exposed and written about this to ignore.

Bahamas2Revive 4 years ago

The lesser of two evils? Well there’s the acknowledgment of a broken system, criminals are expected to commit crimes, the police are to do the opposite, we hold the police to a higher esteem, we pay them to enforce the laws and uphold them, not to break them and make comparisons between them and criminals to determine which “EVIL” is acceptable to us, that makes us hypocrites to say the least. A law breaking police is a CRIMINAL, even worst than the street criminal because it makes justice harder to prevail, and it undermines and corrupts our justice system making it unreliable. If you support criminality from police, how is it different from those criminals who prey on vulnerable persons and exploit them? When the police lost its credibility, it looses the public’s trust and in most case the public’s support. If we are to ignore the current state of our law enforcement agencies, the question remains “can we trust them?” We have police and correctional officers who are involved in or affiliated with gangs, and they partake in gang activities, are we to continue to ignore that conversation and continue to dwell on the notion that if we ignore it like every other social ills we have in this country....it’ll just magically go away? We didn’t give our police a license to kill at their own discretion our citizens, if that was the case, then why do we have courts and prisons if we have officers appointing themselves as judge, jury and executioner....neither of which falls in their portfolios in policing. Everyone has the rights to protect their life if their life is in danger, it’s not limited to the police, that’s to say the police’s life has more value than all others. We need good professional policing, not obey or you’re dead policing. Obviously your “the lesser of 2 evil” is an admission that the police is evil

themessenger 4 years ago

No one is disputing the fact that there are bad apples in our law enforcement agencies or that some of them are involved in criminal activities. Like it or not they are the ones who are the first level of defense between the other criminal elements and the public so if you are a supporter of the theory that defunding and dismantling the police force in favor of " Social workers, health professionals, mental health experts, community workers and other underfunded and high-demand practitioners becoming first responders as they are trained to properly assess situations, de-escalate as needed," as Ms Wallace is suggesting, and that vigilantism is the answer then God help us. Me, I'll stick with the evil I know rather than the devil I don't!

themessenger 4 years ago

@porcupine, Like you, I am well aware that correctional services in many countries, the United States in particular, is big business and I have long advocated in my posts to this site and in many letters written for prison reform in the Bahamas. Lack of vocational education has been one of my pet peeves. I've long been of the opinion, where first offenders and petty drug possession is concerned, that enrollment in vocational training and strict attendance should be mandatory rather than incarceration. If we have to pay to feed them we might as well pay to train them. Crime has always been with us in some form since men walked upright, and not always the result of socio-economics, while some people turn to crime out of necessity many others see it as a profession. Prison reform in the Bahamas should be high on the list of government priorities especially given the rate of recidivism, however, defunding, demobilizing or otherwise demoralizing our law enforcement agencies is not, in my opinion, a sensible solution to the problem of police misconduct or crime.

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