Superintendent Roger Alexander seems to be playing a mas of his own in threatening the public with “tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas, handcuff, baton and weapons” for any failure to comply with the Covid-19 public health regulations between now until Ash Wednesday.
Co-hosting Thursday’s edition of the TV6 programme Beyond the Tape, Supt Alexander warned the public that the Police Guard and Emergency Branch, along with other units, will be “out in their numbers” and “with their full arsenal” in a crackdown against Carnival revelry. It is not quite clear what behaviour outside of the Public Health Regulations No. 2 of 2021 is to be targeted although he did not object to suggestions of “no dancing and wining” and “no paint, no powder, no mud”.
Supt Alexander’s portrayal of anti-Carnival law and order evoked the spectre of the infamous Captain Baker, the British police officer who led the crackdown on the banned observances of Canboulay in 1881 and Hosay in 1884 in which over 20 persons were reportedly killed by the police with hundreds injured. In 2021, we see absolutely no need for a heavy-handed policing response to persons who breach the public regulations which clearly spell out the law and the consequences for its breach.
We are puzzled by the TTPS Carnival policing plan especially in light of the TTPS’ management of crowds during the political campaigns for last year’s general election and last month’s Tobago House of Assembly election, as well as the ongoing anti-crime protests. In the case of the election campaigns which actually fuelled a major spike of Covid-19, the police seemed more concerned with ensuring that music trucks had secured the required permissions than with the mass gatherings in full breach of the law.
In terms of the public protests triggered by the murder of Andrea Bharatt, we have noted the commendable restraint exercised by the police in managing the numerous mass gatherings that have sprung up across the country. It cannot be easy but the TTPS has demonstrated great sensitivity to the public’s pain while attempting to ensure compliance with the regulations. There have been evident breaches but hopefully the public’s wide compliance to masking will prove effective against infection.
However, in enforcing the public health regulations it is not the job of the police to judge which activity is more valid than which and therefore deserves a bligh. Subjecting the Carnival-minded to “tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas, handcuff, baton and weapons” reeks of a dangerous over-reach by the TTPS based on what appears to be a highly subjective anti-Carnival judgment.
We have no problem with the police enforcing the regulations as has been done at various beach limes and paid fetes. What we cannot fathom is the rationale for the level of force that the TTPS is preparing to unleash over the next three days. We note with concern Supt Alexander’s observations about the country being “lawless and without governance” and that if he were an employer he would fire workers who stay home over the next three days. However, we wish to remind him that neither governance nor industrial relations is the province of the police.