Friday, Jun 5, 2020
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A place politics need not go

Government House is in the center of Nassau, resting on an elevation giving it views of the harbor and surrounding communities. It is the residence of the governor general, the representative of our head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

The current governor general is Dame Marguerite Pindling. Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) marines protect her residence.

The Bahamas has had a murder and violent crime problem for a decade. Between 2007 and 2017 there were five murder records. Most of the crime and violence takes place on New Providence, our most populated island.

Sadly, as the killings mounted residents of our main island became accustomed to the gruesome reports.

Nonetheless, the news of Sunday morning was still stunning.

A 52-year-old RBDF marine was shot to death shortly before 3 a.m. in the guard room at Government House. Petty Officer Philip Perpall, who served with the RBDF for more than 30 years, was the victim.

“I’m told that the guard commander (Perpall) was sitting in the guard area, in the administrative area along with another marine while

others were on break in the room area,” said Police Commissioner Anthony Ferguson on Sunday at a news conference.

“This male opened fire from a handgun on the guard commander, hitting him several times to the upper body before fleeing the premises. He was pursued by alert marines but he made good on his escape.”

Perpall died at the scene.

Ferguson said there were four others in the room where Perpall was shot. Others were fired upon too, he added.

Though police have not confirmed the identity of the perpetrator, it is suspected that another marine was the shooter.

A person of interest is in custody being interviewed by police.

Government House is the home of the representative of our head of state. It is a cultural and symbolic center. We come to celebrate the best of achievements at Government House; to receive awards for service to country; for ceremonies swearing in our highest officeholders.

Government House is not a place Bahamians associate with violence.

We should think of the family

As a result of this tragedy, right-thinking people automatically shifted their concern to the grieving family. They are shocked, hurt, in pain, devastated.

Michaella Perpall, 29, one of Philip’s daughters, said in an interview with this newspaper, “We are at a loss for words. We’re just a tight-knitted family and this is deeply tragic.

This is senseless.

“We’re still confused. We’re still trying to come to the reality of this.

“This is just numbing for us. This is just not real. Daily, we’re asking each other to pinch each other to wake up from this nightmare because this is unreal. We cannot accept this.”

Latoya Perpall, also a daughter, said her father’s last words to her before he was killed were, “See you tomorrow.”

She’s struggling with the reality that she’ll never see him alive again.

His son, Miguel Perpall, 14 – the youngest of the victim’s five children – said he never worried about anything happening to his father while he was on duty because he was preparing for retirement.

“I had to hold myself up to the wall because I couldn’t believe it,” he said on hearing the bad news.

“It was like my chest area, like my heart started beating very fast [then] I called [my mother] to let her know what had happened.”

This family will need counseling and the support of family, friends and the wider community. Grief brings a complex series of emotions and reactions that are difficult to handle.

This is not a political matter

This family does not need politicians using their suffering to score political points.

At the news conference on Sunday Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson discussed the investigation, Commodore of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Tellis Bethel spoke of the impact on his organization, and Minister of National Security Marvin Dames addressed the need to examine security at state installations as a result of the shooting.

Dames said his ministry would conduct a wider review of what happened beyond the police investigation.

A review of state security at its main sites is important. Our security is slack and too laid back for these times. Our parliament buildings, courts and ministries, such as the Office of The Prime Minister, are prime examples of places where the security arrangements are inadequate.

That being said, insider attacks are hard to prevent.

As pointed out in an editorial in The Nassau Guardian yesterday, large countries face this problem, too.

One of the worst insider attacks on American soil occurred when then Army Major Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist, on November 5, 2009, shot and killed 13 colleagues and wounded 30 others at the military base at Fort Hood, Texas. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

The U.S. has also faced issues with intrusions at its head of state’s office/residence. There was an armed intruder in 2014, Omar J. Gonzalez, an Iraq war veteran, who made his way into the front door of the White House in Washington, D.C. Then President Barack Obama was not home and security officers were able to detain him. Gonzalez was arrested and sent to prison.

Even here, the home of the then acting prime minister, Philip Brave Davis, in December 2013, was raided by armed bandits while he and his wife were there.

Our Ministry of National Security must determine what is best to protect major state sites and officials within reason, based on potential threats and within budget. But it must be remembered that there is an element of trust inherent to being part of the security force fraternity. When a member of that fraternity losses his mind, privately becomes radicalized or secretly harbors grievance toward another colleague or colleagues, it is near impossible to stop him if he were to decide to hide under the protection of his uniform and sneak attack his brothers and sisters in arms.

Going too far

The PLP statement after the Government House killing started in the right direction before devolving into partisan attacks, mudslinging and loose association.

PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis firstly, and rightly, offered condolences to the Perpall family.

Davis then called on Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to “publicly state that this fatal shooting is not an attack on the state that exposes safety and security weaknesses at public institutions and public safety generally”.

The prime minister should make no political statements on this matter. The commissioner of police is in charge of the investigation. The Ministry of National Security has the responsibility for wider security at government sites. Both already spoke appropriately to the issue.

The prime minister should only express condolences, which is what he did Monday night, iterating that police are leading the investigation and the ministry responsible a security review. His brief comments focused on sympathy.

“Let me begin by offering my condolences to the family and loved ones of Petty Officer Philip Perpall, an officer of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force for more than 30 years, who was killed early Sunday morning,” said Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis on Monday night at the Voice of Deliverance 37th Annual General Assembly.

“I ask you to pray for his soul and for his loved ones and family. I offer my condolences also to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. I also ask you to pray for the other members of the force who witnessed the killing of a fellow-officer.

“This is a terrible tragedy. Let us continue to pray for peace in our land and for all of those who are victims of crime and for their families.”

Minnis thanked the men and women of the uniformed branches for their service.

“We must never forget their sacrifice and their devotion,” he said.

Davis went further in his bizarre statement. He said: “The foreign minister should by now have given assurances overseas about the ability to secure Government House. No word from that ministry.”

Under what logic should the foreign minister give assurances “overseas” regarding the ability to secure Government House?

It is suspected that the incident was an insider attack. Police have a suspect in custody. They are continuing their investigation. The commissioner of police, who leads the investigation, has spoken to the matter. A security review is underway by the relevant ministry. Saying the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be involved makes no sense.

Davis then asks for all the details of what happened – something police do not disclose publicly in an active murder investigation that will soon be before the courts.

The leader of the opposition then ends his statement on the Government House killing bringing up matters totally unrelated.

“We draw attention to the recent fatal stabbing incident of a student near the school campus, given the level of gang activities and retaliatory fights in the public school system,” said the leader of the opposition.

“The PLP will continue to monitor the government’s response to this particular incident, school policing protocols and the unacceptably high levels of traffic accidents and fatalities.”

What do school security and children fighting have to do with an insider killing at Government House? What do traffic accidents have to do with a marine killing a marine?

This statement by the leader of the opposition was ill conceived. It is part of poor PLP strategy.

The PLP wakes every morning, reads the newspapers and starts issuing statements. The party thinks that as soon as something major happens it has to say “something”.

Little reflection goes into many of these statements. The idea is to get into the newspapers, on radio and TV as much as possible. This, the PLP hierarchy thinks, will boost the party’s popularity and show it is taking on the government.

There is another way to look at this, however. When the party makes interventions that make no sense or are offensive to a grieving family, as was this one, trying to politicize a senseless murder, the opposition turns off voters.

There is a time to speak. There is a time to be quiet. There is a time to invoke politics. There is a time for sympathy and compassion.

The Davis PLP does not know when is the appropriate time for what. Attack, attack, attack, even in the face of tragedy, is its strategy.

What a shame. The oldest party in the country, the party that led us to majority rule, has become politically amoral and insensitive in its crusade to rule again.

Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Brent is the General Manager of The Nassau Guardian.
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