Jensen La Vende
Roads leading into Port of Spain were blocked off with debris and set afire by angry residents of east Port of Spain on Monday morning, protesting what they claim was the unjustified killing of three males on Saturday morning.
Residents of Beetham Gardens, Sea Lots, Nelson and Duncan Streets threw every old appliance they could find, along with discarded tyres and other debris, blocking off all lanes of the east- and west-bound lanes of the Beetham Highway.
Production Drive, Sea Lots, resident Elijah Mitchell said the inconvienece suffered by the rest of the country was simply the price of progress. Eight people were arrested by the end of the day.
“The price of progress is high,” Mitchell said.
“The general public will have to pay the price like how the people here paying the price, because the people here paying the price with we children and them.”
The protesters started at Beetham Gardens, throwing old mattresses, tyres and other items in the road, forcing drivers to make about turns on the east-bound lanes to avoid passing on the highway. Residents also burnt rubbish and tyres along the Priority Bus Route near Beetham Gardens. Both protest actions were initially quickly quelled by police, but erupted again and lasted several hours.
Sea Lots residents, along with residents of Nelson and Duncan Streets also joined in.
In the end, they all had the same demand – justice.
The justice they seek is for Beetham residents Fabien Richards, 21, Leonardo Niko Williams and Isaiah Roberts, both 17. A fourth person, 16-year-old Malakai Glenn, was wounded and is in critical condition at the Port of Spain General Hospital. Two others were arrested.
Police said they received information that a car with six men carrying guns were heading east along Wrightson Road and attempted to intercept them. They said occupants fired at them and they returned fire, hitting four, killing three and arrested the others. The car they were in crashed into Republic Bank, Independence Square.
There have been 19 police-involved killings for the year thus far. In 2021 there were 21 for the same period, and 39 the previous year. Last year ended with 31 police killings and 65 the previous year.
Monday’s incident is reminiscent of a similar protest at multiple locations by east Port of Spain residents two years ago, again over the police-involved killing of three men. In that incident, Joel “Lion” Jacob, 38, Noel Diamond, 46, and Israel Moses Clinton, 27, were killed in a reported shootout with police near Jacob’s Second Caledonia, Morvant home on June 27.
Their deaths sparked protests in Morvant; Duncan, Nelson and Frederick Streets, Beetham Gardens and Sea Lots on June 29. During that protest, Ornella Greaves, who was three months’ pregnant, was shot and killed. To date it is unclear who killed her as both police and residents pointed fingers at the other.
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) said it completed its investigations into both matters and submitted findings to the office of the DPP.
At Monday’s protest, Sea Lots residents said going to the PCA was not yielding the desired results, and they wanted to be heard by those in authority.
From 10 am, police had to respond to protests and that continued for about four hours, quelling in one area and re-igniting in another. Threats and glass bottles were hurled at police.
At the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) transfer site, a mountain of discarded tyres was set on fire. Fire officers fought assiduously to put the blaze out, but by 2 pm the fire was still blazing.
The blocking of the highway caused massive traffic jams as drivers sought to leave the city to avoid being trapped. Traffic heading into the capital was diverted from the highway at Maritime roundabout to the Priority Bus Route and the Eastern Main Road. Traffic heading out of the city had to use the same routes also as police blocked off from the lighthouse in Sea Lots to the Maritime roundabout.
Mitchell said the form of protest is the only known, working method for residents to get justice or a semblance of it.
“We is just the downtrodden yuh know. We don’t see a next way. How the man up on the Beetham going and pay a lawyer to deal with this? When he pay a lawyer, how long he could do that? Yuh feel a lawyer is $10 and $20 to do he work?”
He said burning tyres and blocking the road is the only way those in authority are willing to speak to them. He called on the National Security Minister to visit the community and speak with residents. Cheered on by fellow villagers, the shopkeeper said had the deceased been sons of high-ranking citizens, even the Prime Minister would have spoken out against what happened.
“Look the police and them kill men who we, people in the village, know they don’t be on certain activities.”
He added that had they been known to be involved in criminal activity, the residents would not have reacted the way they did.
Supt Ali Mohamed of the Guard and Emergency Branch, after speaking with residents at Production Drive, managed to calm them somewhat.
“I told them we are not here to instil fear or harm anyone. We are just here to ensure that law and order are maintained. They told me what their grievances were and I guided them in a particular avenue, that there are various lawful way in which to go about this rather than breaking the law.”