Editorial: Leading by example

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If we were all to take our cues from some in the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, the persons living with disabilities in this country would have an even harder time finding a parking space. This comment is made in light of a photograph that is making the rounds on social media that shows a police vehicle parked in a disabled parking space. There is no way of mistaking that the spot has been reserved for the disabled. It is outlined in bright blue paint, and there is an easily visible disabled sign on a bright blue post in front of the vehicle at near eye-level. The photo appears to have been taken at Woods Centre, so for those who visit that shopping mall, you know exactly what we are talking about.
The first question that comes to mind is “why?”  With all the recent protests and discussions by the disabled community about access to parking, why would any policeman or policewoman park in a disabled spot? Their job is to ensure that abled bodied people do not park in those spots reserved for the disabled.
It was only about a month ago that the police indicated that able-bodied motorists can be charged for parking in an area that is assigned as a parking space for persons living with disabilities; whether on private or public property. That was according to Acting Assistant Superintendent of Police Elson Quammie, who said the police could issue a ticket or arrest people who disobey the rule. The pronouncement came after Quammie, who is head of the Police Traffic Division, attended a meeting with the Association of Persons Living with Disability in Antigua and Barbuda where the organisation was lobbying the government to put further legislation in place to protect the rights of persons living with disabilities in the twin island state.
That was in late August, so how did the driver of this police vehicle forget so soon and take it upon himself or herself to deprive a disabled person from this small convenience? Was the message not sufficiently communicated within the force? It should have been because this was not a low level meeting of little significance. Big people attended it. Attorney General Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin was there, as was the chairman of the Transport Board, Hubert Jarvis, along with supporting staff members and representatives of the association. The main focus of the meeting was to discuss possible amendments to strengthen the Vehicles and Road Traffic Act to ensure there’s compliance with the parking provisions for the disabled. There seemed to be consensus that something needed to be done to assist persons living with disabilities in regard to parking and to make St. John’s friendlier to the community of persons living with disabilities.  
Judging by the comments on one post, people are incensed by the callous act. It raised the ire of more than a few who commented that the police act with impunity, hypocrisy and in a disrespectful manner. The comment probably best summed up the general feeling referencing the double standard on display. The old saying, “do as I say, not as I do!”  The key takeaway though was that disrespect breeds disrespect. One person proffered that “the law is above the law,” and that is a dangerous road for the police force to travel.  
Already, the relationship between the police and the public is strained, so this sort of behaviour does not endear them to the community, especially not the disabled community. Certainly, this could be one or two bad eggs. That is why it is incumbent on those in authority to come out and condemn this behaviour in a very public way. They should commit themselves to an investigation and to sensitivity training within the force. It cannot be business as usual as the relationship with the public deteriorates.
The hypocrisy is not lost on people. Our offices are located at the airport, and we witness, first hand, the vigorous manner in which parking rules are enforced. Barely a day goes by that we do not see highly annoyed people, who have just received a parking citation for what they deem to be a minor or non-existent infraction, cursing at the side of the street, or people begging in vain for some relief as a parking enforcement officer writes their ticket. But what about the officers who break the same rules and laws that they or their colleagues enforce?  Many ask, where are their tickets?
Maybe if the police officer in the police vehicle that was parked adjacent to the offender had warned his colleague that the disabled parking was reserved, and better, if he had written him or her a ticket for parking in the spot, and that made it to social media, there would be less of an outcry. But it appears that did not happen. Maybe next time, it will. 

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