Michael Abrahams | ‘If election can keep, party can keep, too’
Last Wednesday, an ugly incident unfolded in Seaview Gardens. Police arrived at a party in full swing while a curfew was supposed to be in effect. The curfew hours are from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., but the party organisers had the audacity to start the event at 9:00 p.m. When the police arrived on the scene at 11:00 p.m., they found 200 patrons at the venue, not only ignoring the curfew, but flagrantly disregarding mask-wearing and physical- distancing protocols.
The Noise Abatement Act and the Disaster Risk Management Act were both being violated, and the law-enforcement officers instructed the promoter to turn off the sound and told the partygoers to disperse and go home. But some of the patrons resisted, became aggressive, and hurled missiles at the police, injuring some. One sustained a head injury that required stitches while a female cop was set upon by a group of women who tore off part of her uniform. Ten people were arrested after the fracas and 13 more at another party in the community.
This is the type of indiscipline that will be our undoing. The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has been producing public-service announcements and brochures, flyers and posters, as well as engaging the public in traditional and social media. The message is clear: wear a mask, wash or sanitise your hands regularly, and practise physical distancing.
When I heard of the incident in Seaview Gardens, I was angry. But I then began to wonder what exactly was going on in the minds of the partygoers. Is it just indiscipline? Is it frustration? Is it ignorance? Do they not understand that the virus is real and can make people very sick and kill them? Do they not understand how the virus is transmitted and how to minimise risk? A few days ago, I spoke with a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and asked him to share his views. He agreed that the behaviour was wrong and a disgrace but also told me that it was being said that “if election can keep, party can keep, too”. Although he thought that was a poor excuse, he said he understood why it was being said.
EMPATHISE BUT DO NOT AGREE
I do, too. I empathise with them. This does not mean that I agree with the rebellious revellers and their belligerent actions. It simply means that I understand why some people in that situation may say something like that. When an election is called, there will be Nomination Day and there will be campaigning. On Nomination Day, it is customary for large groups of people to gather, as it is while candidates and their teams are campaigning. During this time in August of this year, although there were laws addressing the wearing of masks and people gathering in large groups, these laws were flouted and broken with impunity. On Nomination Day, friends of mine who were on the road reported incidents of encountering large, animated, and noisy crowds who gathered in the streets and brought traffic to a standstill.
After Nomination Day, a large motorcade involving the prime minister and one of his party’s candidates made its way through parts of Manchester, attracting large crowds, throwing physical distancing out the door. But this is not just about the Government or the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Comrades have no reason to pat themselves on the shoulder either. A newspaper story about the motorcade was tweeted by a popular member of the People’s National Party (PNP). However, the same person was filmed campaigning without a mask, engaging with and hugging people in a community. When he was called out for not covering his face, he responded by saying he was “risking his life” for his country (or his people), one of the most ridiculous comments I have ever heard from any politician. The president of the PNP Youth Organization (PNPYO) was also filmed not wearing a mask at a party she held for her spouse and was called out for it.
And the merriment and gatherings continued post-election - on the night after the JLP victory was declared and on the day after. According to fellow Gleaner columnist Peter Espeut, while driving through the parish of St Ann on the day after the election, his vehicle was “blockaded by hordes of jubilant supporters associated with several long victory motorcades. There was no effort to respect the right of others to use the roadways, no compliance with social distancing, and low compliance with the mask-wearing requirements of the COVID-19 protocols, even in front of the Alexandria Police Station”.
If there are mask-wearing, physical-distancing, and hand sanitising protocols, they must apply to everyone.