Phillip Timothy killed PJ falls

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Phillip Timothy
Phillip Timothy as a 23 year old in 1979- (photo credit Timothy's family)

By: Joseph Jno-Baptiste

On May 29, 1979, over ten thousand demonstrators gathered around the government Headquarters in Roseau, Dominica to protest the passage of two controversial pieces of legislation which was to be passed by the Patrick John led government.

That day was to mark the beginning of the end of the Patrick John administration who just four years before had swept into power in a massive landslide victory at the polls. It was the day that would forever change Dominica’s political landscape.

Mayhem ensued on that day after members of the Dominica Defense Force opened fire on the protestors who were adamant that John withdraws the proposed bills, which were aimed at curbing the influence of Trade Unions on the island.

Within two hours into the demonstration, one young man from Roseau 23-year-old Phillip Timothy lay dead on the streets, and nine persons were sent for treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) nursing bullet wounds and suffering from inhalation of tear gas.

Before the shooting started, protestors began hurling rocks at the building where Parliament was meeting (Government headquarters) hoping to get the attention of the Parliamentarians gathered inside where the debate was scheduled to take place from 10 am. Scores of policemen at the scene were easily overwhelmed as the restless crowd swelled throughout the morning.

With the police on the run, the Defense Force soldiers who were acting very much as John’s private army converged on the crowds and indiscriminately opened fire.

The protest was the culmination of months of agitation by the public against an administration caught up in several scandals. Following his win at the polls, the young charismatic leader Patrick Roland John put in place the “Dread Act”, which gave law enforcement authorities, the right to kill and otherwise detain scores of Rastafarian youth, or Dreads as they were called then who had made their homes in Dominica’s lush mountains.

Repeated raids by Police on their hideouts had resulted in several deaths and a growing unease among the population.

In 1977, the powerful trade unions embarked on a 77-day strike, which resulted in the near-total shut down of the island. Later, John would enter negotiations with an American Don Pierson with promises to turn Portsmouth the island’s second town into “a free port and a haven for casino gambling.”

Busloads of persons drove from the villages across the country into the town, businesses closed their doors, and schools were shut down for the day.

The unions, therefore, decided to take indefinite strike action demanding the resignation of the Patrick John Government.

The island-wide strike had the full support of the general population and lasted for 27 days setting the stage for a series of actions: a Vote of No Confidence in Patrick John as Prime Minister passed in the Parliament of Dominica on 19th of June 1979; a Resolution on the creation of an Interim Government passed in the Parliament on the 21st of June 1979; the swearing-in of Oliver Seraphin as Interim Prime Minister on the 25th of June 1979; and, following the approval of the Committee for National Salvation (CNS), the swearing-in of a new Cabinet of Ministers on 29th of June 1979.