Maurice Connor (right) is being attacked by a man with a hammer after coming to the aid of a woman who was being threatened by his assailant (left).
PHILIPSBURG--Following a complaint from “We the People” movement, the Ombudsman requested both Minister of Justice Anna Richardson and acting Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Omar Ottley to respond to a 1,010-signature petition “for justice and against racism” no later than November 10, 2022. According to the representatives of the concerned citizens, the ministers did not respond.
“We are fed up,” said Maurice Connor, who was at the receiving end of an attack with a hammer on March 29, 2022, after he stepped out of his car to come to the aid of a woman who was being threatened by a driver that had just hit her car. The incident occurred in the vicinity of the Osborne Kruythoff roundabout in Cole Bay. A video of the attack, which was aggravated by racist slurs, went viral.
“This fight had taken place following what was reportedly a traffic accident,” St. Maarten Police Force KPSM stated on April 5. “Both individuals were later arrested and brought to the police station in Philipsburg. Seeing that the circumstances were at the moment not entirely clear, exactly what had taken place, both suspects were released on the order of the acting prosecutor on duty after they had been questioned by detectives.”
KPSM said police officers were intensively engaged in legal processes related to this case as well as interviewing witnesses, using the video footage and other investigative materials and techniques. On April 5, police said: “This investigation is currently in its final stages. The findings of this investigation will be forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office, who will proceed with the further process of this case.”
We the People was launched by Alberto Bute and Shujah Reiph on May 14, with Maurice Connor, Carina Baly and Chantal Wilson as members. Wilson was the party involved in the accident where her car got hit, while Connor had intervened and was attacked.
“We have openly experienced racism and violence in our birthplace by a foreign businessman,” Wilson, Connor and Baly stated on July 22 in a letter to Minister Richardson and acting Minister Ottley, asking the ministers to look at and respond to their “Petition for Justice and against Racism”, which had been signed by 1,010 persons.
Explaining to the ministers the reason for seeking support from the community, the group stated: “Our agreed-upon solution to the unfortunate situation was to seek justice within the institutional framework of the Police Department. We were then met with more insults and discrimination, instantly becoming victims of injustice and a blatant violation of our constitutional rights.”
It is also of great concern to them, the complainants said, “that the Prosecutor’s Office has not attempted to investigate this case to the fullest, but instead put more effort in getting parties to settle this case financially, of which we disagree.”
The members of We the People said their awareness campaign and signature drive conducted in May, June and July had brought to the forefront “social and economic injustices that the citizens of St. Maarten have endured and are continuing to endure.”
The group mentioned a Facebook post offering employment to “white only”. “It is unacceptable to see a non-native business-owner boldly request that the native citizens of St. Martin should not apply for a job available at their establishment,” it is stated in the letter to the ministers.
Their 1,010-signature petition addresses “the systemic failure in our society,” the members of We the People argued. “It is shameful what the ordinary St. Maartener has to face when consulting the justice system, a system seemingly not committed to justice, equality and basic human rights.”
The movement was started “for justice, equality and against all forms of racism”, the authors of the letter to the ministers concluded. “As citizens of this country, we are calling upon you, the elected officials, that these matters be dealt with using the strongest moral and legal laws of this society.”
Not having received any response from members of the Council of Ministers, Connor, on behalf of the concerned citizens who signed the petition, filed a complaint with the Ombudsman on November 2, 2022.
The Ombudsman presented the following intervention proposal: The ombudsman requests that complainant is provided with a response to the petition submitted on August 2, 2022, within one week; however, no later than November 10, 2022. The minister is further requested to provide the ombudsman with a copy of same. If no response is received within the allotted timeframe, the ombudsman will proceed with an investigation accordingly.”
The proposal was presented by the Ombudsman to Minister of Justice Anna Richardson and acting Minister of TEATT Omar Ottley separately on November 3, 2022.