Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Jobeth Coleby-Davis said yesterday that it is “unfair, oppressive and unjust” that vulnerable Bahamians appear to be the target of arrests and fines for violating the 24-hour curfew and weekend lockdown.
Speaking at a press conference held at PLP headquarters on Farrington Road, Coleby-Davis called for more leniency to be shown when arresting and charging those individuals.
“Each day we find a litany of stories about people, mainly people from working class social and economic backgrounds, senior citizens and young people who seem to be the target of arrests and fines which, in our party’s view, causes us concern,” she said.
“This seems, to us unfair in many respects…
“Surely it is unjust and oppressive to fine people hundreds of dollars when they are unemployed and have no visible means of support or the ability to pay.”
Coleby-Davis pointed to the recent arrests of two Haitian men who were charged in court this week for breaking the weekend lockdown to get water from a public pump.
Both men were fined $400.
The senator also highlighted the case of a young man who spent three days in jail for selling coconuts during the lockdown.
She noted the alleged arrest of homeless men on Grand Bahama in March, at the beginning of the curfew orders, claiming “it has gone downhill from there”.
“It’s not that we don’t want anyone to abide by the curfew, but what we want is for the police officers, for the magistrate and for the government to apply discretion, empathy and compassion as they are executing the emergency orders so we’re not oppressing our people even under these uncertain circumstances,” Coleby-Davis said.
“[T]he fines don’t have to be extreme where you see someone was at the pump getting water to drink or getting water to take a bath, or someone was sleeping on the side of the road or side of the building because they don’t have anywhere else to sleep.”
PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell suggested lesser penalties for vulnerable people who breach curfew or lockdown.
He claimed that harsh penalties are “building up hatred for the government”.
“We need to raise the alarm that this is causing problems at the very base of society,” he said.
“What you’re doing is building up hatred for the government instead of peace and good order, which is what the government is supposed to be doing.”
Mitchell added, “For example, as Senator Jobeth was talking about the penalties, you know that in law there are a range of penalties that a magistrate can offer.
“A magistrate can discharge you absolutely, for example. That should have been the case for someone who’s going to the pump to get water to drink – discharge you absolutely.
“There’s also community service. That is an option which is available. There’s also the discharge with conditions – if you be of good behavior, that sort of thing. Rather than going straight to fining someone money which they obviously do not have, that’s the issue.”
While Mitchell said he could not commit to a PLP government expunging the records of those charged with related fines, Mitchell said it is something a PLP government would take into consideration.
Coleby-Davis, meanwhile, said she feels “the government is not doing enough to protect the citizens under the emergency order”.