I heard the Commissioner of Police, Dr Carl Williams, being interviewed on Nationwide radio yesterday afternoon. During the interview, the Commissioner said that as of now, when people wear masks at political meetings, the masks will be removed by the police.
I would ask the Commissioner to clarify what provision in law the police would be acting on in doing so.
I am genuinely seeking an answer.
The Commissioner and other members of the JCF have been raising the concern about the practice of wearing masks to political meetings. The Commissioner said during the interview that people who wear masks are concealing their identities with the intention of committing criminal acts. (There was some irony to this, given long-standing complaints about the practice of some police of wearing masks during operations, effectively concealing their identities in instances of alleged police abuses.) Cliff Hughes, who was conducting the interview, later raised the possibility that those wearing masks were wanting to attend meetings of both parties without being identified.
Given the shooting on Sunday night during the JLP mass meeting in Sam Sharpe Square, in which two people were killed, a number of people were shot and injured and the safety of many more threatened, I can understand the desire of the police to increase security at political events. The Commissioner said that police investigations indicated that the incident wasn’t politically motivated, but was related to conflict between two gangs based in the Flankers community in MoBay. He has said that criminals would use any event as an opportunity to carry out their criminal actions.
It is one thing for the police to express their concerns; to encourage people not to wear masks to political meetings; to ask the political parties to get their supporters to desist from the practice; to seek a meeting with the Political Ombudsman to gain her support in having the practice banned. It is another thing for the police to actually be removing masks, unless there is a power in law which provides for them to do so.
If the police have a reasonable suspicion that a masked person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime, then the police can arrest the person and require the removal of the mask as part of the process of establishing the person’s identity. But other than that?
I hope Commissioner Williams will clarify.
(This does lead to a more general discussion about the extent of an individual’s right to cover their face in public, which in some countries has led to heated debate.)