EDITORIAL: Balancing both rights
Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin has whipped up considerable debate with his recent Press conference comment that there is a fete mentality taking root in Barbados that will do absolutely nothing to build up the youth.
According to him, “it is a sad fact, but at a lot of these fetes there is bad behaviour and distribution of illegal substances”.
The commissioner said the fetes were proving to be a problem in maintaining law and order and were incubators for crime. However, he stressed, the police would be doing something about it.
We do not in the least doubt the commissioner’s disclosure that some fetes are causing a problem, since it is his responsibility and duty to know from his operational intelligence of these matters.
What’s more, we are not unmindful that relaxation, music, and drink – which are part and parcel of a fete – may on occasion conduce to behaviour that goes beyond the normal bounds of merrymaking, and that in such an atmosphere criminality may present itself. But we question the blanket solution threatened by the commissioner as the appropriate response.
We wonder about the commissioner’s proposal to alter the longstanding arrangements on granting licences for music at these fetes. These licences may now have to be approved by senior police officers rather than commanders of lower rank, a change which in the commissioner’s own words would “entail delays”.
There can be no question the commissioner has a high public duty to prevent crime, and where it is reported to have been committed to investigate and place the material evidence before the courts for adjudication.
At the same time, the lawful holding of a fete is consistent with the right of all Barbadians to associate within the ambit of our Constitution. But breaches of the criminal law under the deliberate cover of a fete become a matter for the attention of the police, not because a fete was taking place, but solely because of the criminal conduct there.
The point is that while it is right and proper that criminal conduct of the kind highlighted by the commissioner is dealt with, there must always be due recognition of the rights of fete holders, so that a balance is struck between the duty of the force and the liberty of merrymakers.
However laudable the commissioner’s objective, the change in procedure will almost certainly involve the innocent suffering with the guilty, unless it is the case that all fetes are incubators or oases of criminal activity – which is highly unlikely.
We expect the commissioner and his officers will pay the highest attention to a balanced application of the law as they seek to protect and reassure this country in the face of rising criminal conduct. It is of the essence of our democracy that this be so, for the authority of the police is the highest exercise of the coercive power of the state.
We therefore urge reasoned public debate on this issue. Ours is a young democracy which must be protected even as we tackle breaches of the law occasioned by the holding of fetes.
The Royal Barbados Police Force has the right to suppress this new cover of criminal activity, but it must be so done that it does not compromise the rights of those law-abiding cultural industries entrepreneurs.