Editorial: Can we take the mask out of masquerade?

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We are the last group of people to lobby for the restriction of people’s freedoms. We believe that people must be free to express themselves and to enjoy the liberties and privileges that are afforded us under our Constitution. Having said that, freedom should be exercised with common sense and should also conform to the social values of the wider community. 
Just because we live in a free society does not mean that it has to be a “do as yuh like” society.  Wait?!? Did we just really say that?!?  The point is, your freedoms come with responsibilities.  For example, your freedoms can offend but they should not endanger.  Your freedom to “talk as yuh like” is not a licence to defame.  In our exercise of our freedoms, the impact to our neighbours and our society should drive our decisions and behaviour.
We gave that bit of preamble in light of the uproar over the Insane Mas’ Troupe’s presentation of SWAT during the recent T-shirt Mas parade.  For those that missed it, the band’s members sported masks and fake handguns during the street parade.  Some have referred to it as artistic interpretation and defended the band’s choices while others have strongly criticised the band for what they deem to be inappropriate.
The Commissioner of Police, Wendel Robinson, has been critical and has added his voice to those residents who have called for legislation to be passed that would ban the use of imitation law enforcement clothing and equipment from Carnival costumes.  Commissioner Robinson said, “There are no laws restricting mas’ troupes from using such paraphernalia from the parade [therefore I am] calling for such laws to be enacted to prevent this from happening.”
We certainly understand the Commissioner’s position. Were we standing in his shoes we would likely take the same position.  Regardless of the freedom of expression issues, we believe that masked men with fake guns combined with drunken revelry and a lot of hot, sweaty pushing in the streets makes for an incendiary situation. Gladly nothing serious happened and Insane Mas’ and their supporters will point to that fact as evidence that this is a ‘nothingburger’.  But, it does raise questions.
Getting back to our preamble, it is clear that this situation certainly pushes the boundaries.  It is offensive to many and it has the potential to lead to a very dangerous situation.  Does the decision to mimic law enforcement and carry fake weapons demonstrate common sense and conform to the social values of the wider community?  That is debateable but we have to say that the needle tends to point towards the “no” side of the meter.
The question we face is whether it crossed the line, and is the appropriate reaction, the institution of new legislation to outlaw the use of clothing similar to law enforcement and any associated paraphernalia. 
If there is a defence to be tabled it is the fact that Insane has advertised their 2017 troupes for months.  We have found at least one post going back to March 2017.  Granted the model is female and there is no sign of guns but the overall theme is quite militaristic.  The caricature model even sports tactical gear and handcuffs.  What should also be noted is that the packaged items do not include masks or fake guns – not even the handcuffs, which we are sure was a disappointment to some.
So, was this intimidating, on-the-road look promoted by the troupe or did a few revellers in the Insane Army take it too far?  That is an important question to answer because we have J’Ouvert coming-up and if the law enforcement organisations have not been online for a preview, let’s just say that this time, the defence force may have a few words to say.  Think olive drab green colour (not camouflage!).  Luckily, the model’s shorts(?) are not included in the package because if they were, ‘sumbuddy get lock-up for sure!’
One of the key words which we employed was “caricature”.  Nothing about Carnival should be a direct imitation of real life.  Costumes should be easily distinguishable from real life and as far as we have seen, they are.  Obviously, there is no one who wants persons running around town impersonating our law enforcement personnel but as far as we know, there are laws to curb that behaviour already existing.  The fake guns? Now, that is a completely different matter and should be addressed, if not already, in the existing gun control laws. 
So it comes down to the answers to a few questions:  Will new laws do anything to eliminate a re-occurrence? Also, as masks are a part of mas’, can we effectively ban certain types of masks without seriously impinging on the masquerade of our mas’? And if impersonating law enforcement and military personnel is already covered (or can be covered) by existing laws, then what will new laws achieve?
Personally, we do not think that new laws will do much to achieve whatever is desired.  What may be more effective is a better understanding of social boundaries in the exercise of our freedoms and more police resources directed online so that conversations, actions and remedies can occur before and not after.  We get the feeling that had the police raised their concerns with Insane early, there would have been no fake-gun toting masked men on the street and, indeed, this would have been a  nothingburger’.

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