(PRESS STATEMENT) The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) denounces in the strongest terms the excessive use of force and the unprovoked responses by law enforcement officers that was unleashed on citizens and residents who gathered peacefully at the public market hours ago. All evidence points to citizens and residents who gathered to air their grievances and to demonstrate their opposition to the government’s responses to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the move to mandate vaccines for certain workers and the denial of civil liberties for the unvaccinated population. Further, the protestors voiced their serious opposition to the government’s plan to vaccinate children.
In a callous and vain display of state power, the brutal and oppressive crack down on peaceful protestors at the hands of officers in riot gear, was irresponsible and was executed indiscriminately, without care, compassion or concern for the protestors, who included children, on-lookers, bus operators, passersby and persons who reside in the area and who were in their homes.
The police have a fundamental duty to protect and serve the citizenry and not to abuse the authority which they possess. Further, protests and civil disobedience are hallmarks of a mature democracy. We have failed that test miserably! What is concerning is the fact that all across the world persons continue to protest against their governments in response to policies regarding the COVID-19 vaccines and the curtailing of civil liberties. Over the past few days, we have seen protests taking place in Barbados, Guadeloupe, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Their protesters have been more vocal and strident in their actions than those in Antigua and Barbuda. Yet, we have not witnessed any police brutality in those islands. Contrarily most governments have heralded these peaceful protests as a progressive brand of democracy.
Persons who were present at the protest today were seemingly caught unawares by the show of force and all expressed shock, disbelief and anger at the actions of the police who, they say, were in no way threatened by the crowd which had gathered at the Sir. VC Bird bust and who chanted, “keep it clean, no vaccine…”
In expressing alarm and anger at the police’s action, political leader of the DNA, Joanne Massiah, asked, “who could have authorized such an action against the peaceful protesters? Were the uses of tear gas, rubber bullets and barricades an appropriate response to a peaceful gathering? I say emphatically no! I say not in Antigua and Barbuda! Why did the authorities so callously and wantonly disregarded the constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms of the people guaranteed by the Constitution of our country? Yes, a state of emergency is in effect; however, this does not mean that all of our rights are suspended! There are many questions to be answered and we demand that the Commissioner of Police and the acting Prime Minister come to the public immediately to explain the reason for this type of brutality exacted on our people.”
Further, the DNA notes the irony that the unfortunate events unfolded in front of the bust of the Father of the Nation who is credited and largely revered as having fought to secure the freedoms of the masses against the myriad of injustices exacted by the plantocrats who ruled our country with impunity! A trade unionist himself, many of his actions on behalf of workers also involved protests and acts of civil disobedience. Surely, Sir VC Bird must be rolling in his grave.
The DNA calls upon the people of Antigua and Barbuda to stand up against this autocratic regime which has shown nothing but contempt for our lives and livelihoods. We call upon civil society organizations, the churches, the unions, non-governmental organizations, citizens in the Diaspora, the international community to condemn the actions of the police and those who sanctioned them.
Malaka Parker, DNA Chairperson, opined, “let us be ever mindful that history will judge societies and governments – and their institutions – not by how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the concerns of the masses! The Police’s actions in using rubber bullets and tear gas purportedly to disperse the crowd without due notice, warning or engagement are irresponsible in every regard! There were persons in the vicinity who were not protesting and the disregard shown to every person in the vicinity highlights the fledgling state of our democracy and is a crescendo in this growing impasse over COVID_19 vaccines. In my view, this has only inflamed the people and it is tantamount to throwing gasoline on the fire! The government’s missteps are too many.”
The DNA appreciates the psychological, financial and social violence with which our people have contended for well over eighteen months. We beseech our people not to descend to physical violence on this issue to remain calm, level-headed and focused. We therefore urge the government, and particularly the police, to exercise restraint and to temper the authority which they possess with compassion and tolerance.