Brute force in the band

Newsday Editorial
February 11 2016 –

CarnivalTHE POLICE must investigate the circumstances surrounding video images which purported to show a man being beaten by the private security guards of a Carnival band. The footage raises deeper questions which have, over the years, been left unresolved in relation to the regulation of private security guards and our national festival. The footage, which circulated on social media on Carnival Monday, shows a band of about a dozen guards from the band Yuma — identified merely by black t-shirts saying “Yuma Extraction” — ganging up on a man, who has been identified as PNM councillor Jason Alexander. The incident appears to have occurred not on private property, but rather in a public street.

It is one thing to say someone is guilty of breaching a rule, trespassing or posing an imminent threat. It is another thing to unilaterally take the law into one’s own hands and to apply brute force disproportionately to a single individual who appears unarmed. This needs to be ascertained.

More fundamentally, how can a person be deemed to have trespassed in a public street? Carnival bands like to keep out people they do not want along the Parade of the Bands route using a slender rope and sheer force. But what authority do they have to accost members of the public or to apply force of any kind? Guards may act as bouncers on private property, but even there they must act within limits.

When the turf of the same guards becomes a public street, different rules, more sensitive to the higher degree of engagement with the public — who have a freedom of movement under the Constitution — should be applied. While some have apparently become accustomed to the rope culture, that rope does not strip citizens of their rights. It certainly cannot justify unlawful assault.

What is the relationship between private Carnival band guards and the Police? It seems there is some blurring of turf when it comes to the Parade of the Bands route. Citizens’ arrests are possible, but again, these must be for offences. The determination that a law is being broken is fraught with difficulty and so the citizen risks civil suit if no true justification for the use of force (and proportionate force) is to be found. Potential civil action, however, does not strip the police of their responsibility to determine any question of individual and/or corporate criminal liability.

The facts about Monday’s incident must, therefore, be ascertained.

But enough is known to make many ask if other social factors were at play.

According to reports, tighter and tighter restrictions have been wrought over the years on bands. Today, it is not easy to get into one. Questions need to be raised over how participation in Carnival is now structured.

Gone, clearly, are the days when you simply registered and then picked up a costume last minute Carnival Sunday. Now, one has to know somebody who knows somebody on a committee. It is not unusual for bands to request photographs of the torso of the prospective masquerader seeking entry! Systems that would — in other contexts — be regarded as downright discriminatory are blatantly deployed. It is true there is need to ensure security and to have some idea of who is participating in a band. But the idea that screening can address concerns over misbehaviour through such superficial means is questionable and, in the process, sublimates a whole other range of motives for screening relating to class, bodytype and race.

There is a difference between being choosy and being discriminatory, and in practice this is very borderline.

The deeper issue behind Monday’s violent incident is the fact that our national festival is no longer one for the people but rather select people.