In his 1997 song Waan Back, dancehall artist Anthony B lamented the fact that the simple act of going to a party was like heading into a war zone, with people willing to shoot you or ‘bust a Heineken bottle in your face if you stepped on a man’s shoelace’.
He longed for a return to the ‘good old days’ where you could go out and have a good time with your significant other without fear for life and limb.
Altercations are nothing new at fetes and other social gatherings; conflicts over simple events, battles over members of the opposite sex and ‘grudge matches’ between rival factions have a long history in social Barbados.
Back in the day, men would engage in a war of words or, at worst, a fist-fight, and generally speaking, by the end of the event, the badjohns were friends again.
These days, both men and an increasing number of women are more likely to pull out a deadly weapon over such conflicts, with the end result being, as another dancehall artist, Junior Reid, points out, “hospital, cemetery or jail” for one or other of the parties involved.
There was a time when party cruises on pleasure vessels Bajan Queen, Jolly Roger and Harbour Master were a welcome change of scene for partygoers. They did not take place very often and the price was often higher than land-based parties, which at that time served to some degree as a deterrent to those who were considered to be looking for trouble.
We cannot say definitively that no conflicts arose during those boat rides, but whatever happened to the best of our knowledge did not spill onto the docks immediately afterwards resulting in violent death.
Over the past year we have had two such incidents, the most recent, more disturbing death was that of 32-year-old Dave Archer, who was merely doing his job as a security officer.
According to the official police account: “Archer and other security personnel had to intervene in a fight that occurred moments before docking. The assailant exited the boat (in this case the MV Dreamchaser) and returned with two other males. Security was alerted and a struggle ensued resulting in Archer being shot. Police transported Archer to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.”
Given that we are currently into the Crop Over season, where fetes, whether at private homes or places of public entertainment, bus crawls and indeed party cruises usually increase exponentially, we must look at security matters more closely.
We are not calling for a situation that is likely to instill fear, such as armed police and Defence Force soldiers lurking at social events, but an increased number of undercover officers from both units should be present.
It is true that many promoters hire security officers for fetes as well as Kadooment bands, but they need more than a glorified “watchman” or “bouncer” at these events.
Most security firms now call for officers with some experience in the military or law enforcement, and indeed some police officers and military personnel moonlight as security guards at private events. These guards, whether they represent the many security companies on the island or are indeed law enforcement officers, should be given permission to call for back up from the law enforcement agencies where needed.
All patrons should go through basic security checks on entry using electronic scanning devices, and body or bag searches should be carried out in a manner that does not invoke the ire of the patrons. Anyone found with offensive weapons or illegal drugs of any kind (and yes, this includes a single marijuana ‘cigarette’) should be prohibited from entering the event.
It is only natural that people sometimes become intoxicated while attending these functions. In this case, bartenders or waiters have the right to refuse to serve anyone who appears to have had one too many. If they act aggressively at that point, the staff should be able to call on security guards to assist them. Breathalyser testing should also become a more common practice.
Onshore activities are one thing, but there must be even greater levels of security when these fetes take place on the open sea, because where can you run to when bullets start flying on board a ship?
It is true a Barbados Coast Guard vessel always accompanies the party cruise boats when they go out on the water, presumably with instructions to come on board should things go awry.
Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police William Yearwood has said that in light of this weekend’s incident, party cruise patrons should be made to present their identity cards on boarding, so that if they are known offenders the law enforcement personnel on board will know to look out for them, or perhaps prevent them from entering.
Beyond that, having identification would also be helpful in case another tragic event occurs like someone going overboard while the vessel is out at sea.
Dockside security is obviously another factor that must come into play in light of the two incidents that occurred over the past year, where people were killed immediately after the ship returned from a cruise.
In this instance, if any major altercations occur on board, the security personnel on the vessels should alert their land-based associates to put them on guard in case the parties decide to take their battles ashore.
We must go back to a time when going out to a fete did not mean fearing that you would not get back in one piece owing to the lawless acts of a few individuals. If we root them out from the very beginning, we might just create a safer environment for all to party.