by Donella Hosten
Hate speech. Slander. Bullying. Homophobic. Insulting to women. Child abuse. Attack on the nation’s youth and nation’s minority. Unfortunate. Unacceptable. These are the words and terms trending since Sunday night’s unfortunate comments by Grenada’s Prime Minister, and leader of the ruling New National Party (NNP), Dr Keith Mitchell.
On Sunday, 28 May 2017, the NNP held a public meeting at Snug Corner area of Boca, St George. A massive crowd of supporters came out to witness and to be a part of the build-up to the NNP’s Women’s Convention. Many speakers addressed the audience, but the Prime Minister left many persons at the event and others who tuned in via live television and internet video streams, unhappy and distressed, after he maligned two young male caretakers for the opposing party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Mitchell referred to NDC’s Caretaker for St George North West, Ali Dowden as “Arlene”, and Caretaker for Carriacou and Petite Martinique, Tevin Andrew as “Theresa.” This created a massive uproar on social media. Was Mitchell casting aspersions on the characters of Ali Dowden and Tevin Andrews? Was he attacking a minority group? Mitchell followed up by calling out the names of three male ministers in his administration, whom he said “have no second name.”
What exactly was he insinuating?
Malaika Brooks–Smith–Lowe, co-founder Director of Groundation Grenada, said “It’s ironic that at a gathering of the women’s arm of his party the prime minister chose to use the idea of being a woman as an insult. This idea that the worst thing a man could do is be perceived as at all feminine, is in line with the everyday subtle sexism that many women know all too well in Grenada.”
Mitchell is an ex-minister for Women’s Affairs.
Ali Dowden is a Queen’s Young Leaders alumnus awarded in 2016 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In an interview with the OECS, Dowden stated that “I am taking my work to a whole new level as I seek to become the next Member of Parliament for my area, St George’s North West. I am preparing for the next general election where I will be contesting for that seat once again as I go up against the current sitting MP and Prime Minister. On my return from London I most recently opened my constituency office which I intend to use to offer a different type of representation, one that is more people centred with the involvement of the people.”
On Sunday, during his address, within the space of 1 minute, (2:25:37 – 2:26:30 approximately of the video), Mitchell stated the NDC as “maligning people’s character” and as being “the most dirty-mouth people you ever pass in this country,” as well as their use of “mauvais langue and bad mouth,” followed by praise for his party’s focus on “youth development and everything that goes with this,” before launching into “they say they have a candidate in North West…” and began to speak about not liking child abuse.
Mitchell continued that “I’ve never abused any children, but if a child faces me in politics, then I will have to do what the people want me to do,” (in obvious reference to Dowden, his rival for the St George’s North West seat).
During the NDC’s weekly press briefing on Monday, Senator Franka Bernardine and Chairman Vincent Roberts described Mitchell’s statements as “unfortunate.”
According to Bernardine, these young men, Ali Dowden and Tevin Andrews, ought to be emulated for their contributions instead of being attacked and ridiculed. She is ashamed of the level of comments and considers the PM’s statements to be “absolutely unacceptable.”
Chairman of the NDC, Vincent Roberts, believes that “it is slander… it is bullying. The words used by PM Mitchell is really an attack not just on the youth of our nation, but on the people of Grenada who may be in the minority.”
Roberts stated that this was a clear-cut “hate speech.” However, he said “we the members of the National Democratic Congress, we are confident that Tevin and Ali are quite capable of defending themselves and continuing the strength. It is because they are seen as a threat, that they are being attacked.”
It was suggested this might be a new trend for the Prime Minister — attacking minority communities. In the lead-up to the Grenada Constitution Referendum process, Mitchell was said to verbally attack the disabled community, drawing the ire of Senator Ray Roberts. The Grenada Constitution provides that “no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.”
Roberts commented that it is clearly an indication that Mitchell has realised that he has failed to address the needs of the Grenadian people. Reiterating that there is no truth to the aspersions cast by Mitchell, Roberts said he sees this as nothing more than an act of desperation, which shows that the PM is somewhat backwards in his thinking.
This in sharp contrast to Mitchell’s, “We cannot now go back to where we were… we cannot go back to behave irresponsibly… we have an image to protect…. The more this country’s image is intact, the more resources we will get.”
The NDC is calling on Mitchell to apologise. “We call on Prime Minister Mitchell to withdraw that statement and to apologise, not just to Ali and Tevin, but to the people of Grenada.”
Roberts called on groups such as the Conference of Churches, Civil Society, Trades Unions and others to “condemn the hate speech… We are sorry to have such a pathetic leader, resorting to such unfortunate language in 2017.” These same groups were singled out for praise by Mitchell within moments of the unfortunate remarks, for providing “moral guidance” to where Grenadians are, as a people.
Both Ali Dowden and Tevin Andrew opted not to comment on the issue. Efforts made to contact non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including the Grenada Human Rights Organisation (GHRO) and the Grenada National Coalition on the Rights of the Child (GNCRC), proved futile. Youth organisation, the Rotaract Club, declined comment at this time.