ROAD TOWN, Tortola, VI- It was on September 6, 2017 that Category 5 hurricane Irma smashed into the Virgin Islands (VI), leaving death, devastation, homelessness, and panic in the streets for gasoline and food.
The killer storm left over 80% of all homes, automobiles, boats, businesses and even churches destroyed. There was also widespread looting, as there was a breakdown of law and order.
To assist its colony, the British Government sent in the military, along with British police, to restore law and order, as by this time the unelected Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert aka ‘Gus’ had already declared a State of Emergency, which gave him ultimate power over the Territory.
More confidence in Governor than Elected NDP
This was a move welcomed by the majority of residents, especially business owners, following the looting as days after the deadly Hurricane Irma the public had heard little or nothing from the elected National Democratic Party (NDP) Government, or had not even seen them.
To help with law and order, the first batch of British Police arrived on the island days after Hurricane Irma struck. Other officers also arrived from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Force and Bermuda.
When the politicians emerged, it was on October 5, 2017 after some four weeks not hearing or seeing much from them. The elected officials were at the House of Assembly, held at the Save the Seed Energy Center in Duff’s Bottom on the main island of Tortola, passing a new curfew law. The Bill was not even discussed with the people or let alone explained during the debate, a practice of the NDP regime.
It appears that the Government was more interested in enforcing a curfew long after the looting had stopped than addressing the needs of the residents, including that of widespread layoffs, lack of civil servants pay, homelessness, fair distribution of aid, many homes without insurance, and lack of information coming out from the administration on school resumption, help for the poor and the vexing issue of price gouging.
Gun drawn, it’s curfew time
Now comes word that local residents as well as business owners are complaining about their experiences with the British Police on their methods of curfew enforcement.
Some three businessmen, who did not want their names to be published, said that on two occasions, it was just about in the first case 8:00 PM (before the extension) and the second case 9:50 PM, that British Police allegedly came up to them with guns drawn and demanded that they close their businesses in compliance with the curfew law.
They claimed they were not warned or anything, just the heavy handed approach to “close shop or go to jail.” Another man told our newsroom (first name Joe) that he was driving home from work after leaving a Nanny Cay Bar around 10:40 PM and his car was stopped by police with guns demanding that if he is “not off the road he will be locked up and thrown in jail.” He said a female local police officer told him she has “the power to ask him to park his car and walk home”.
Many other local businesses have told our newsroom about the harassment by the British and local police officers over the curfew law and the issues of “a white man with a gun in the face of a black man brings back some bad memories”.
Racism or doing their job?
When our newsroom approached British police with the complaints, one said “race has nothing to do with it, as our mandate is to enforce the curfew law.”
Another person with a similar experience said they do not blame the British police alone as the local police officers are “showing off themselves and acting like they got power now to harass residents because they have a rifle in their hands.”
Others have argued that some bars with majority white clients, such as one close to Banco Popular and another on the water front in Road Town, are sometimes seen with people beyond the curfew times; however, the same level of harassment appears not to be there.
Police Commissioner Michael B. Mathews, who is popular with all ranks of the police force and has ‘goodwill’ generally with the public, told our newsroom in an exclusive interview today October 14, 2017 that “the role of the RVIPF is to enforce the current curfew order and its relevant legislation.”
The top cop admitted that he “accept that policing does not always go smoothly and I am always happy to receive feedback in this regard.”
Mr Mathews assured that “normal procedures for making a complaint against police also remain in force.”
Revisit the curfew- Julian Willock
It is unclear when the curfew will be lifted.
Former Permanent Secretary and Businessman Julian Willock had called for it to be lifted some three weeks after it was imposed. Two days after Mr Willock’s call, the hours were extended from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM at nights; however, the curfew is still in place, from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM.
Mr Willock argued that the government is discriminating against businesses that operate at nights and that, after talking to the Police and the Military, he was “sufficiently confident that law and order was restored to the VI.”