On May 25, 2020, protests erupted in the United States of America after a video went viral where it was seen that a white police officer pressed his knees to the neck of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, lying on the ground, forcing his face on the pavement until he was unresponsive. During the ordeal he cried, “I can’t breathe”. ‘I can’t breathe’ became the chant during protests in the USA and around the world, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in New York after a police officer put him in a prohibited chokehold while arresting him. A chokehold is when someone places an arm around the neck which restricts breathing, and puts pressure on the sides of the neck to slow the blood flowing through two large arteries to render the person unconscious.
In the United States of America, there are two neck restraints that police-reform activists say should be prohibited: the chokehold, which restricts breathing, and the carotid hold, which limits blood flow to the brain. The use of either can render a person unconscious and can be lethal. The questions is, do the police authorize the use of the chokehold in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
During the protest in Kingstown on Thursday, 9th September, 2021, we had a similar situation to that of Mr. Garner. We saw, Mr. Carly John, husband of opposition Senator, Shevorn John, placed in a chokehold by a police officer. From videos that were shown on social media, we saw that Mr. John was in distress. We believe he was crying, “I can’t breathe.” Undoubtedly, Mr. John had difficulties breathing, at one point he had to push his hands into his mouth in an attempt to clear the air passage. (Look at the video carefully). He was later arrested and charged; we await the outcome.
Most people were appalled when they saw what had happened to Mr. John, an opposition senator’s husband, but that has been the modus operandi of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) regime. For twenty (20) years, the ULP regime has wrapped its tentacles around the necks of Vincentians. Most Vincentians continue to live in fear of political victimization, a weapon used by the ULP regime against persons who are perceived to be their opponents. Recently, most citizens have become concerned about their constitutional rights and freedoms based on the actions of the authority. We think about: Adriana King, Kenson King, Colin Graham, Tyrone James, Joseph Da Silva, John Mofford, Rohan Simmons and Robert ‘Patches’ Knights.
Moreover, the ill-advised policies of the ULP regime and the mismanagement of the country’s economy have created severe hardship for Vincentians thus, creating an environment which makes it extremely difficult for them to survive. They are having difficulties sending their children to school, they can’t pay their bills, most of the homes are without internet, cost of living has skyrocketed, unemployment is rampant and exorbitant registration school fees stands for the new academic year.
The unemployment rate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines stands at 25 percent according to the IMF. That was before the COVD-19 pandemic and the eruption of La Soufriere. This is worse than it was in 2001, when the ULP came to power. At that time, it stood at 20.9 percent. Today, the youth 15-24 years, unemployment rate is estimated to be a staggering 46 percent. We recall during the 2001 general elections campaign, the ULP promised the youth that they would have provided thousands of jobs, quality jobs; they are still waiting for those jobs. They are at home frustrated.
Further, under the ULP, poverty has increased. Research has shown that poverty is linked with negative conditions such as: substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and under-resourced schools which adversely impact our nation’s children. Those conditions can be identified in this country and are severely affecting most Vincentians.
The report for the 2018 poverty assessment has not been released to the public by the government but was made public by Members of the Opposition last year. This generated much public interest and discussion. At that time, members of the government responded that the report was not yet complete.
However, we did get a peep into the report. Last year, Mr. Cummings presented findings to the general public of the Poverty Assessment Report. It painted a damning picture of poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The report concluded that poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is worse than when the ULP gained power in 2001. It stated that poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines had moved from 30.2% of the population in 2008 to 36.1 % in 2018. And the indigence level had moved from 2.9% to 11.3% in the country of 110,000 people. The government denied knowledge of the report and said the poverty study was incomplete.
Agriculture once provided 20 percent of our GDP. Now it struggles to reach 3 percent. For twenty (20) years, the ULP has failed to remove the blacklisting of St. Vincent and the Grenadines from selling fish into the EU. Our balance of trade in agriculture is the worst it has ever been, while many key crops are in decline, many farms that once produced bananas are now covered in bush and are unproductive. There has not been an agricultural census in over 20 years, so the ULP doesn’t even know where our farmers are, what they are growing, how can they help them to improve their yields or even what land is available.
The ULP’s complacency after twenty (20) years in power, stops our fishing industry and agriculture from growing and creating jobs for our people. The New Democratic Party has an effective plan for jobs and growth in the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.