Soualiga Grassroots Movement rallies around Natigua StephenPOSTED: 09/16/15 11:01 PM
Ras Mystic: “Other suffer from the same treatment”
MARIGOT – “Am I not Charlie?” says Natigua Stephen, a member of the Soualiga Grassroots Movement who has been dragged into court over allegations of racial slurs against members of the immigration service (police aux frontiers, or PAF) and the gendarmerie during a protest against the wrongful arrest of her 37-year-old son back in June.
Stephen denies the allegations and calls, with a reference to the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris back in January on her right to freedom of speech. “I don’t want to make this about me,” she says. “This is not an isolated case. They are harassing our movement.”
Members of the Soualiga Grassroots Movement – an organization that stands up for the rights of indigenous St. Maarteners on both sides of the island – accompany Stephen to the interview with this newspaper. They are DJ X-Ray, Ras Mystic, Horace Whit and Freddy Richardson.
The prelude to tomorrow’s court case played out on June 23, when the PAF stopped a bus on the Boulevard de Bellevue. On board was Kevin Stephen who was on his way to the gym in Port de Plaisance. When an officer asked for his ID, he initially thought he did not have it with him. There was an unpleasant exchange with the immigration officer that resulted in Kevin’s arrest. He was thrown on the ground, handcuffed and subsequently detained at the PAF-office in Concordia for eight hours, “only because he called the PAF stupid,” his mother says.
His mother and members of the Soualiga Grassroots Movement sprang into action. On the radio they called for people to support Kevin in front of the PAF office and demand his release. There was an exchange of some sort that would later come to haunt Natigua Stephen.
“A month later I was called into the office of the PAF because they wanted to talk to me. They said I had used a racial slut during the demonstration to get Kevin free. Then they asked me about the Soualiga Grassroots Movement.”
From that moment on, Stephen got the idea that the officers were not only after her, but that they were after the movement. “Therefore, this is not just my story, it is about the movement,” she says.
“This is about intimidation and we will not be intimidated, says Horace Whit. “We are within our rights to have an opinion. They are questioning one of our members but the action was clearly directed at our organization.”
Says Freddy Richardson: “The principles and the values of the republic have not trickled down to Saint Martin. We have to expose them.”
“This is a landmark case,” adds Ras Mystic. “There are others who suffer from the same treatment but they do not dare to speak up. We want to bring this to the forefront.”
“Our mission is to defend the interest of indigenous St. Maarteners,” says Whit. “They have a problem with contradictory views and they say we are all French and we are in France here. We say: we are St. Martiners and we are not in France. And the PAF should control immigrants, not citizens. What happened here was clearly outside the domain of the PAF.”
The movement-members are asking the public to come out and support their cause at the courthouse in Marigot tomorrow morning. The courthouse opens at 9 a.m.