Editorial: Let’s make it the summer’s safest festival

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On August 2nd, 2016, a tragedy happened on the streets of St John’s. A young mother by the name of Oniqua ‘Nikki’ Phillip was run over by a carnival truck and died. Ms Phillip lived in Yonkers, New York and was on vacation with her family, including her toddler son when she died. The sadness of this situation cannot be overstated. A family has suffered an enormous loss and a son is now without a mother.
Among the sadness was a fair bit of anger. The family felt that Oniqua’s death could have been avoided and they were particularly upset that there was inadequate communication as it related to the investigation’s progress. On more than one occasion, Oniqua’s mother, Dornell Phillip, who has become the most vocal spokesperson for the family, expressed her frustration with the authorities and their handling of the matter.
The most recent movement in the case was the news that the toxicology report was completed and handed over to the Public Safety Minister, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin. Police Commissioner Wendel Robinson said that based on the results of the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) test, the inquest will have to be re-opened. According to the commissioner, “The individual had twice the [legal] amount of alcohol in her system.” That legal amount, according to him, is 0.08 (millilitres per 100 millilitres).
Those are a few of that facts of the case that is known so far.  The Public Safety Minister said that the finding will be brought before the inquest before a final determination. And this is where we should all pause to allow some common sense to shine through.
Let us start by stating the obvious. Carnival is drunken revelry. No matter how we twist and turn it, we, and others in the business of Carnival, promote the event as a time to let loose. A time to abandon your inhibitions and just have a good time. Part of that good time is sipping on too many drinks. If we hide from this fact then we will never be able to address the negative aspects that come with this type of behaviour and control those that go beyond the boundaries.
There are many that believe that Ms Phillip was an adult and paid the ultimate price by not exercising restraint. That however would be a very uncaring and myopic view of this tragedy and carnival as a whole. We cannot invite people to our country to participate in exactly the type of activity that Ms Phillip did and wash our hands of any responsibility when things go wrong.
If nothing else, we owe it to the memory of Oniqua to take the necessary steps to limit or eliminate the risk of this happening again. In the past year, we hope that the band leaders and those responsible for Carnival have discussed what happened and taken steps to improve the safety around the trucks, and any other dangerous areas. Surely, Oniqua was not the only inebriated person in the street that day, and surely she was not the only one that may have been over the legal limit for alcohol (which we thought applied to the operation of vehicles and machinery, but stand to be corrected).
Drunkenness is on full display during Carnival; to the extent that it can be considered a cultural thing. There is little intervention by the police or band leaders to reduce or limit consumption to ensure that people stay within that legal limit. In fact, the “all inclusive” trend seems to promote excessive drinking, so let’s not fool ourselves that we promote “drink responsibly” in any overt way.
The inquiry into this tragic death continues so there is little that can be said relating to this particular matter. However, there is a lot that can be said and done so that the risks of having to engage in this conversation again are greatly reduced, if not eliminated.
We bill ourselves as the “greatest summer festival” and to continue to do so, it must also be the safest summer festival. As far as safety goes, we do not have to reinvent the wheel or look very far. After a number of safety related incidents in the New York version of West Indian Carnival, the city and organisers implemented a set of guidelines. Here are just a few: Sound trucks conform to a 13-foot height restriction (above ground), large trucks are covered to protect people walking next to them and the New York Police department (NYPD) Highway Patrol inspects each truck the weekend before the parade, and issue certificates. Each driver must carry the inspection certificate to be allowed to drive in the parade.
In addition to those precautions, a Highway Patrol officer rides in the cab of each parade truck for the length of the parade and the truck is accompanied by two NYPD officers who walk in front of the truck the entire route. There is also an army of volunteers to help ensure the safety of the participants and attendees.
We recognise that there is a cost and resources are scarce but we must ask ourselves: What price we put on the safety of our citizens, our residents and our visitors?

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