Three days ago a friend posted a photograph on Facebook of a police car parked in the wheelchair parking spot outside Wong's Bookstore in Nassau. She had taken it after having witnessed the uniformed policeman park and go inside for a bit of leisurely shopping, and after approaching him to ask why he was parked illegally, only to have him reply he did it because there wasn't any other spot available, and a snide "have a nice day." She posted the picture of the police car in the wheelchair spot immediately thereafter. Right away a little posse formed of friends who give a dam, and together we got the photograph to a commanding officer, Superintendent Stephen Dean, who has assured us the policeman will be appropriately disciplined. Look at us, rocking the citizen journalism thing! Now, cut to yesterday. I went to the Harbour Bay shopping center for a manicure at Windemere. As I am a person with a disability I looked for wheelchair parking and... could find none. Every single wheelchair spot was filled. Either every handicapped person in Nassau was in the shopping center at that moment, or it was filled with people who stole wheelchair parking from citizens who really needed it. I drove around the entire parking lot looking for security in a golf cart who might be able to give me a ride from a distant parking spot but there were none in sight. I was forced to park on the yellow line outside the store. A half an hour later they were telling me that security had called police to tow my car. A good friend in the salon went and moved my car for me. No police were called for all the cars illegally parked in the wheelchair spots.
I've been through a thousand parking nightmares since I began needing parking assistance at the age of 32 when I was pregnant. I never used handicapped parking before then. I have come face to face with the dregs of Nassau society in front of a thousand stolen wheelchair spots. Truly, the meanest, most disgusting people, little old ladies, dread-locked fathers with children looking on, uniformed civil servants, every sort. I have politely asked a thousand of them to move so that I could park. And as I write this morning I realize that I cannot remember a single one of them ever responding in an apologetic way. Every single one of them responded by shouting curses, ridicule, violent verbal confrontation. Many times the attacks were witnessed by my son, he has seen this go down many times in his young life. Thankfully the most dangerous of the confrontations he did not witness. Like that time outside of Lowes when I pulled up behind a snarling, sneering wheelchair parking thief who was refusing to politely move and blocked him in. He responded by running around to try and stand against my car door to stop me from getting out. I had to shout him into retreat. I have learned over the years that the best way to deter a violent predator and a wheelchair parking thief is to draw some witnesses. I was shaken and quite terrified by the experience. (The truth of the matter is that it is the idea of witnesses in the bad guy's head that deters him, not the actual witnesses, no one standing around witnessing these events have ever rushed over to assist me, they usually just stand around and watch. Bahamians are like the mean New Yorkers of the Caribbean.) Then there was that time back in the 1980s. I was downtown. There was a Mercedes Benz in the wheelchair spot. So I pulled into an empty taxi spot. In a moment a crowd of angry taxi drivers had converged upon my car. As I was asking the angry mob to allow me the use of the spot for a quick minute I looked over saw the owner of the Mercedes had returned and a policeman was talking to her. It was one of my relatives by marriage, now a former relative, with her two little children in tow. She must have seen me embroiled with the taxi drivers but was too ashamed of herself to approach me. Another shocking and traumatizing experience that I never spoke about until now. I grew up knowing about relatives known who packed the trunk of their rental car in trips to America with an assortment of walkers, crutches, canes and fraudulent handicap car stickers, stealing handicap parking was the highlight of their trips. Some people are awful and I think I have met them all. Yes, I have battled with the meanest people on earth in parking lots across this country. It is no exaggeration to say that a trip to the store can end up in a fight for my life. Many trips end with me just coming home, shopping undone, appointments missed. And just to conclude I would like to say that I have recently been prevented from being able to get both a business license and a marriage license (without help) because both relevant government buildings have no parking available for people who need assistance.
But people are great too. Like my friend Nancy who bravely approached the offending policeman at Wongs, who photographed and reported him. I thank her for giving a dam. Thanks to all my other friends who expressed their outrage. Thanks to Supt. Stephen Dean too for hearing our complaint with compassion and understanding. There are good people in the world too. Even good policemen. So let the good people step forward and speak up. With our iphones, laptops, blogs and Facebook pages, lets embrace the idea of being citizen journalists. Photograph the bad guys, publish the photos, call for justice! This is the real power and purpose of these technologies. I believe in naming and shaming the perpetrators. Lets remember that able bodied people become suddenly disabled all the time. You never know when you might need that consideration yourself. Let us all have more compassion for one another. But if we cannot have compassion then let us at least have respect for the law.