40th anniversary of 1981 Bills: Police Sick-Out; Bills Killed
The two massive demonstrations organised by the National Committee in Defence of Democracy (NCDD), as well as the historic stay away from work on June 17, 1981, shook the foundations of the Cato government to its core. It was clear that its high-handed and repressive approach was not working and that the working people and broad sections of the middle class had lost faith in the government.
Clearly, just as former Health Minister Randolph Russell had charged in his resignation of May 20, the country was drifting rudderless. There was a sense of general social chaos, at a time when firm, decisive and positive leadership was needed. What was offered instead was the draconian Public Safety and Public Order Act, and that had been emphatically rejected by the expressed popular will of the people.
Just when it looked that things could get no worse, they did, and in very unexpected and dangerous quarters at that. On June 23 over 200 police officers, yes police officers, made history in St Vincent and the Grenadines by staging a sick-out, a withdrawal of their services. The following paragraph from JUSTICE newspaper of June 26, 1981 gives a picture of this unprecedented event;
“The doors of the various police stations were firmly secured. The Immigration office in Kingstown was locked tight.
There were no policemen on the beat, none at the Courts, none at the airport. At Central Police Station the national flag was taken down and on the grey- painted doors was a notice in white chalk stating, “Only food, messages and clothes allowed in. Flights into the airport ceased the Courts of law ground to a standstill and the scene was laid for massive chaos and disorder…..”
One had to wait no longer than the night which followed. In what could only be described as a night of “fear and looting”, the absence of police security gave a free hand to criminal elements. Stores and business places were broken into and looted as criminal elements took over capital, Kingstown. It took the courageous action of a police inspector who shot one of the looters, for some level of sanity to be restored. It was truly one of the most frightening nights in the modern history of our country; a night which all should hope is never repeated.
Fortunately the police went back to work the next day, to protect a much shaken-up administration. The chicken had truly come home to roost and the very survival of the government then depended on it backing down on the Bills, and bowing to the will of the people. Yet it wanted to save face and to this day, no formal announcement was made about the withdrawal of the “Dread” Bills. What was done was that Parliament was prorogued and unless the Bills were reintroduced, (who was so brave to take such action?) the two pieces of legislation became null and void.
The Vincentian people had KILLED THE BILLS.
In the concluding part of this series next week, we shall assess the implications of this vital process.