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    Categories: Comment

THE LAW IS AN ASS

I read the account of a gambling case which was tried at the Charlestown Magistrate’s Court last week.

A few teenage boys and a young adult were playing cards somewhere in Cotton Ground, Nevis. I presume they were in an open yard because the report was that a policeman in disguise as a dump truck driver caught them in the game.

The first thing that caught my attention in this report was that the disguised policeman sprang into the card game with pistol drawn.

The second thing that I noted was that the report said that the policeman with pistol drawn arrested the CRIMINALS.

The third thing that interested me in this report was that the policeman emptied the pockets of the gamesters and seized $106 EC. Fourthly, one of the teenagers, a school-boy, claimed that the money the policeman took from his pocket was his lunch money.

My first reaction to this interesting story was that there didn’t seem to be any evidence that money was on the ground or on the table where the youth were playing. I don’t know if this was an oversight of the reporter. If not, I was forced to wonder if in these modern days, modern youths gamble from their pockets.

I remember the days of my youth in College Street when the gamblers met under the big grape tree at the entrance of the alley. The gamers used to toss their money in a ring and the winner used to take his winnings out of the ring.

The evidence of gambling used to be the money which the policeman secured when he pounced on the gamblers engrossed in their fun. The law must have changed so that a few fellows playing cards with their money in their pockets could be arrested at gun point and charged with gambling.

It seems to me from the evidence that the wrong doing was that the chaps happened to be engaged in card playing while some of them should have been at school. It seems to be a little off course to pin a charge of gambling on the lads by searching their pockets and finding a total of $106 including $12 lunch money.

I remember a policeman in Tabernacle, who made an occasional weekly income from the gambling villagers. He was never interested in their arrest, only in the money they had in the arena. He knew where the gaming site would be so he would suddenly turn up and the gamesters would flee in panic, leaving their money behind. Although he knew who the gamblers were, he never took them to court. He only kept the money.

I may be wrong; the law may have changed or what is worse the Law may have been always there and I might have been ignorant of the Law.

Ignorant or not, I take issue with the Law which makes criminals out of people for having their own kind of fun. Call the fun gambling or whatever other name can describe it, the Law which prosecutes a few fellows for playing a game of cards, is an ass.

Now I am not castigating the policeman for arresting the lads. He was doing what the Law empowered him to do. I am also not criticizing the magistrate for finding them guilty and imposing the sentence which she considered relevant. She also acted according to the Law.

I am taking issue with the Law which makes convicts of a few young black men for playing a competitive game of cards.

I hope I won’t be misunderstood on this. If any of my sons was found playing cards in an isolated location when they should be in school I would not like that at all. But I wouldn’t want to see him held up at gun point and dragged before the magistrate for this act of waywardness; because I do not think that his act falls to the level of a crime.

Why is gambling a crime in a land where people of all levels gamble in all sorts of ways?

All around the island in every village and neighbourhood, people are encouraged to gamble. Slot machines are installed in the shops. When they go to buy they are tempted to change their dollars into quarters to try their luck with the one-armed bandit. Some win, some lose. That’s the gamble; the Law allows this.

There is gambling galore at the Marriott Hotel. Citizens, residents and visitors, flock there every night to punch the machines. Most of them lose their money. A few of them sometimes win. Some lose, some win, that’s gambling. The Law allows this.

The poorer people practice less sophisticated methods of gambling. They gather at certain agreed locations, in a house or in a yard, and play cards, or roll dice. In the process they eat and drink, laugh and talk. In short they socialize. This is how some of the poor black people spend their time when they are not at work. They socialize over a pack of cards, a pair of dice and even a set of dominoes.

They play for money, because money heightens the excitement. Some win, some lose. That’s gambling; but the Law is against this. The Law is an ass.

When I was a boy, there was a place on Losack Road, where certain prominent men met at night to gamble. I used to hear that they had a license to carry on gambling. When I grew older I learned that they played poker and had no license.

These respectable men could sit comfortably at their gaming table winning and losing their money, having drinks, having fun, socializing.

The Law allowed that, but the same Law was always ready to come down on some poor black men who tried to copy the past times of the big shots.

This Law is one of the vestiges of colonial rule, when the lines were clearly drawn between the white aristocrats and the black underclass. One of these white aristocrats amassed such a massive gambling debt that his sugar estate had to be used to satisfy his gaming creditors. The Law allowed this, the same Law which in the same era was used to vigorously prosecute poor villagers who past their time in a pleasant competitive game of cards, in a cane range or in a back yard.

As a certain wise man of the past remarked, THE LAW IS AN ASS.