Bloody Thursday: a day that will live on in infamy
by Dr. GARREY MICHAEL DENNIE
ON THURSDAY, August 5, 2021, an assailant threw a rock at the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves. The rock struck with concussive force, gashed his skull, and sent the Prime Minister reeling to his knees. As the Prime Minister’s blood flowed freely onto his white shirt, video images and sounds of this vicious assault on the Prime Minister’s person sped across the social media platforms provoking a myriad of emotions among Vincentians.
Glee, scorn, sympathy, and anger were all on display governed by their support or opposition to the longest serving Prime Minister in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Regardless of their sentiments, however, they were united in this one refrain, “somebody buss Ralph’s head.”
This criminal attack against a sitting Vincentian Prime Minister during a political protest is without precedent in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Political protest itself that represents powerful challenges to a sitting Vincentian government is not unknown to this country. Indeed, one might say that such protests are deeply embedded within Vincentian political culture.
Vincentians today may recall the political protests of 1981 and 2000 as proof of our capacity to challenge sitting governments.
Indeed, for supporters of the New Democratic Party (NDP) the 2000 ‘Roadblock Revolution’ that brought the Unity Labour Party (ULP) to power may be continuing inspiration for their unceasing efforts to topple the ULP government. But here is an important reminder of that historic protest: no one touched a single hair of then Prime Minister, Sir James Mitchell. The sanctity of his person remained inviolate.
In fact, the historic magnitude of the brutal assault against Dr Ralph Gonsalves is best measured not against the last 20 years of Vincentian history but rather against the full sweep of the history of universal adult suffrage in St Vincent and the Grenadines. And what we see is that for 70 years, that is between 1951 and 2021, no Chief Minister, Premier, or Prime Minister – and for that matter, that old colonial figure, our unelected governors – none of them was left bloodied and bruised on the streets of Kingstown during a political protest at any time whatsoever. This does not mean that the political protests were not raucous.
But it does mean that Vincentians in the past drew a hard line between protesting the policies of a sitting government and physically attacking the leaders themselves.
On Bloody Thursday, we crossed a line and what we do now is critical to securing, stabilizing, and sacralizing the Vincentian experiment in self-governance. To honour the sacrifices of Vincentians past who fought for our freedom, and to secure the welfare of Vincentians yet to come, Vincentians in this moment need to come together on a simple proposition: political violence has no place in the Vincentian political life.
This is easier said than done. The stone that dropped the Prime Minister is remarkable only in the sense that it actually struck the Prime Minister.
I have no reason to believe the person who threw the stone was confident in his/her aim. Perhaps the person was simply “lucky”. But in earlier incidents, protestors have rained stones and other missiles on the Prime Minister’s vehicle. Striking the Prime Minister may have been “luck”. But choosing to throw a stone at the Prime Minister is obviously intentional. And equally obviously, criminal.
Such criminal conduct cannot be encouraged or be allowed to take place with impunity. But I do have in my possession a video of a senior NDP parliamentarian declaring on July 7, 2021 that the word peaceful must be removed from the protest. He has also strongly condemned the grievous bodily harm the protester inflicted on the Prime Minister. This is double-speak. Where does “non-peaceful” protest end and violent protest begin?
The Minister of Health, Jimmy Prince might have an answer to that: time.
Because during Thursday’s protest one man aggressively accosted the Minister declaring that the Minister must be in fear of his life. One witness to the encounter asked that he stop intimidating the Minister. He did not. Rather, he threatened that whenever and where ever he meets the Minister in the future, he would continue to assail him. And he did so in the presence of law enforcement.
Against the broad sweep of 70 years of Vincentian politics the bloodied head of the Prime Minister is a unique occurrence. But in the unsettled and unsettling practice of modern Vincentian politics, the Prime Minister’s bloodstained shirt is simply a manifestation of a deeper poison that is corroding Vincentian political culture, namely, the NDP’s politics of desperation.
Of this there can be no doubt. The putative reason for the protest is the claim that the government changes to the Public Health Act which would require vaccinations for specific jobs is a violation of Vincentian freedoms.
This is utter nonsense.
No country in the world allows anyone the right to freely spread a disease that would kill other people.
Hence, you either vaccinate, or you find other employment. That is your freedom of choice.
The NDP knows this.
But they have joined the anti-vaxxers in opposing the law simply because it provides them another platform from which they could attack the ULP government on the grounds that the government is taking away the freedoms of Vincentians.
In fact, within the Caribbean, the Vincentian Government has been by far the most protective of the freedoms of its citizens by refusing to engage in the lock-downs, curfews, and states of emergency that our neighbouring countries have employed in response to the pandemic. Here too, the NDP criticized the government on the grounds that it was not implementing those stronger measures against the pandemic.
The NDP was correct then. The low Covid-19 rates in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the first 12 months of the pandemic had less to do with the actions the Vincentian government took and much more to do with the fact the world shut down around us. But defending Vincentian freedoms now against mandatory vaccination whilst criticizing the government earlier for not imposing measures which would have curtailed those very same freedoms is rank hypocrisy. Or as I described it earlier, the politics of desperation.
For trying to save Vincentian lives by mandating vaccines in specific jobs, Ralph got his head “buss.” But right now he may have to do something harder. Absolute guarantee that in their response to the violence inflicted against his person and the office of the Prime Minister, the police remain scrupulously lawful. One act of criminal violence needs not be followed by another. For these are the times and moments when historical legacies are made. Thursday, August 5, 2021 will live on in infamy. Let it stand alone.
[[UPDATE: This article was updated on August 12, 2021 at 11:45 am to include the date on which the senior NDP parliamentarian declared that the word peaceful must be removed from the protest.]]