Burma Road curfew

Dear Editor,

When the government of The Bahamas imposed a curfew earlier in March 2020, it was the first curfew in The Bahamas since the Burma Road Riots on June 1, 1942.

Bahamians are not used to their civil liberties being taken away, their movement restricted nor their rights abridged.

Most health professionals have determined that restricting the assembly and movement of people is the best and most effective means of curtailing the spread of the coronavirus.

I agree and accept the measures implemented in the emergency orders and I want to urge all residents to listen to and obey the health professionals and let us stem the spread of the virus.

A review of the lessons of the curfew enacted after the Burma Road riots is interesting.

Why is the uprising called Burma Road riots?

There was a street on New Providence known as Burma Road. Names have changed and development has, for the most part, faded the memory of where Burma Road was located.

From my research, it was the road where the Oakes Field hangar existed which is now the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre on Thompson Boulevard or University Drive.

It is a shame that Burma Road was not memorialized by paving the street with bricks or with some other distinguishing feature in the years following the riots.

Why is the civil disturbance known in a pluralized manner? Essentially because there were two incidents of rioting.

The first on June 1, which was mostly a labor uprising caused by the unfair wage difference between Bahamian workers and those of foreign workers, and the apparent indifference to and the Bahamian political leadership’s endorsement of these wages.

At the time, Bahamian laborers were being paid 81 cents per day while American laborers were paid $1 per day.

The second uprising occurred on the night of June 21 and the early morning of June 22 when about 100 black men marched to Sear’s Addition, which was then a white enclave.

The men were angered by the news of fellow rioters being shot at and actually killed earlier in the day, while some were influenced by the alcohol they had gained from the day’s riot.

The British soldiers stationed on New Providence were sent to Sear’s Addition to quell the riot which was brought under control after one of the rioters was shot and killed by the British soldiers.

Now there were serious consequences for some persons who participated in the riots.

Several were charged with disturbing the peace, receiving and causing harm and were sentenced to jail and spent significant time after being convicted. Others were fined and, sadly, five people were shot and killed.

Many were charged with being found in the streets after the curfew hours and were fined.

Interestingly, one person who was arrested and charged for breaking the curfew was Roland T. Symonette.

It had been reported in the press on Friday, June 5, 1942 that Symonette and over 30 other men were convicted and fined one pound for violating the curfew.

Symonette was in the process of campaigning to retain his Eastern District seat in the House of Assembly.

A conviction would have disqualified him from running in the 1942 general election. Amazingly, on Monday, June 8, 1942, The Nassau Guardian printed the following retraction: “We regret that an error occurred in the reporting of the proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court on Friday. The following were not fined one pound as stated, but were cautioned for a breach of the Curfew Regulations: Messrs. Stanley Lowe, R. T. Symonette, Irvin Kelly and George Gibson.”

What happened between Friday, June 5, when it had been reported that Symonette was convicted and fined, and Monday, June 8?

It does not seem as if the other 33 men who had been convicted and fined on Friday, June 5 had their convictions and fines changed. Why the seeming preferential treatment for the Symonettes, Kellys and Lowes?

Already during this recently imposed curfew we have heard of homeless men being arrested, fined and imprisoned for breach of the curfew.

Justice in The Bahamas must become blind.

– Maurice Tynes

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