NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Several organizers and dozens of other people who gathered near Windsor Park on East Street yesterday morning to march onto Bay Street in protest of the seven-day lockdown were detained, leading to an emotive standoff between officers and scores of residents of the area.
Thirty-nine people were arrested, according to police.
A group protestors sat in front of Super Value on East Street and decried the decision to implement a complete lockdown in New Providence, claiming residents, particularly the vulnerable, have been unable to prepare to survive the lockdown period.
A portion of the protest was streamed live on Facebook by entertainer Demetrius Smith.
As officer urged residents to return home and for the protestors to disperse, several of them said they would rather be arrested than to give up their cause.
Others, some of whom were residents of the area, told officers they had nothing to lose and would accept being arrested over suffering at home.
One protestor said at least meals would be offered in the Department of Correctional Services.
When contacted, Police Commissioner Paul Rolle said: “The Royal Bahamas Police Force wishes to ask persons to take the coronavirus seriously as the intent of the emergency orders is to prevent the further spread of the virus and to save lives.”
He advised that protestors did not have or seek permission to do so.
As Eyewitness News live streamed the protest, officers handcuffed and escorted nearly two dozen people into awaiting buses.
The arrests led to an emotive standoff between officers and scores of residents of the area, during which, several more people were detained.
Several resident and protestors who spoke to Eyewitness News bemoaned the lack of time allowed to prepare.
They spoke ahead of the prime minister’s announcement around 4.30pm of the reversal of the complete lockdown, allowing food stores and other essential services to resume operation Wednesday.
On Windsor Lane yesterday morning, Dwight Bullard, a father on three, said he had no time to prepare.
“The prime minister has to give us time to prepare for this thing my brother,” he told Eyewitness News while holding his infant son in his arms.
“If you even have money, you still can’t spend it because ain’t nothing open.
“I may could take this, but they (his children) can’t take this and they’re innocent.
“…They have to remove this lockdown and stop talking foolishness.”
Asked how he will get through the period, Bullard said: “I don’t know my brother. I don’t really know. All I can do is hope and pray that the Lord can find a way because these people doing [expletive].”
Judy Smith, a resident of Montell Heights, said she was unaware of the march, but decided to take a stand for sovereignty and democracy. She said while she was not against the lockdown as a tool to curb the spread of the virus, “the way it has been done is wrong”.
“You don’t come on the television and say effective immediately, Mr. prime minister,” she said.
“I am unemployed. I don’t have means like you. And so, you just put this in place and expect people to just lockdown for a week with no provisions? That’s the problem I have.”
Many others made similar pleas and called on Bahamians to come out and support them and those who do not have a voice.
As more residents began to gather, largely in front of their homes, numerous police vehicles arrived.
Officers appealed to residents to understand the need for the lockdown.
Several officers urged residents to remain in their yards and not gather in the street or they would be forced to detain them.
“Go in the yard please,” an officer repeated, as dozens of residents shouted their concerns.
In one instance, an officer took the name and contact of a mother of three, who said she did not have time to get water before the lockdown.
As tensions increased, several glass beer bottles were thrown at two police buses on Windsor Lane, crashing into them as they passed.
ASP Audley Peters later said the person responsible for damaging police property was arrested and will be charged.
A woman, who identified herself as Shaunae, said the government appeared uncaring.
“We have people in this house who have disabled children,” she said. “We have senior citizens who could barely walk. Right now, all of us are tired. I have a young child. I’m unemployed. This people ain’t making no sense. Look at all these young children around here.”
Genene Williams said: “I am a white Bahamian and I don’t have no problem being amidst this whole tribe because let me tell you something, you have done this country wrong from Dorian,” she shouted, saying the emergency orders were “starving people”.
“Bring it on. You want to carry me to jail, come get me. This white woman ain’t staying [home].”
Organizer Sharon McKenzie said the group was prepared to march every day for change, adding that the protest was for the rights of Bahamians and not against the prime minister.
During a national address Monday, the prime minister announced the immediate seven-day lockdown for New Providence and a continuation of the lockdown in Grand Bahama for seven more days beginning today.
He said COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly due to the failure of many people in the nation to adhere to the health measures to mitigate against the virus.
In his statement yesterday afternoon, the prime minister said he had heard the concerns of the Bahamian people and recognized the need to make “adjustments in the short term to strengthen in the long run”.