There’s not much point in National Security Minister Gary Griffith saying it is illegal to disrupt public meetings if the very law he quotes is not being enforced.
Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams must explain to the country why his officers stood by and allowed the prolonged disruption of a meeting organised by political activist Barrington Thomas at Himalaya Club last Thursday night.
The protest was a clearly a plan event with those involved moving into action as Thomas began to deliver his promised “tell-all” against the Government. Bearing placards, they marched through the meeting, attempting to shout him down before mounting the stage to advance on him. Amid the threatening and potentially dangerous situation, the couple of police officers on duty stood by, apparently oblivious to Section 50 of the Summary Offences Act which states: “A person who at a public meeting or during the course of a public march…(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour; or (b) distributes or displays any writing, sign or visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned, is liable to a fine of one thousand dollars or to imprisonment for six months.”
The attitude of the police was in stark contrast to the situation a few months ago when a speaker at a public meeting of the Constitution Reform Commission was jostled by police officers for merely overstaying the allotted time at the microphone.
In this latest incident the protestors seemed to have no fear of legal consequences to their brazen actions which were conducted in full view of news cameras covering the event.
The claims by both Mr Thomas and ILP political leader Jack Warner that the protest was led by recognisable operatives of the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) are cause for alarm and investigation. Mr Warner’s claim that he witnessed the agitators being paid by a URP official after the protest adds a sinister tone to the entire event.
This incident must not be swept under the carpet but investigated to the fullest extent of the law. Acting CoP Williams should know that with more than a year to go before the next general election is constitutionally due, such action, if allowed to go unchallenged, will set the stage for worse to come. The national interest requires a strong message grounded in law enforcement and not political posturing by Government ministers.
A separate investigation should be launched into the allegation of a connection between the alleged URP official and the protestors. For years, and through different administrations, there have been allegations of state funds being deployed for political campaign purposes through URP. A responsible society cannot allow itself to accept the possibility of such misuse of public funds as the norm.
Somewhere within the Government or civic society, we must find the capacity for ensuring integrity in the use of public funds and in the political process. Accepting misdeeds as a natural part of our political reality is to descend to a dangerous level of cynicism from which it will be very difficult to retreat.