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CoP wrong to dismiss Panorama beatings

It is entirely absurd for Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs to dismiss last Sunday's beating of Panorama patrons by his police officers as a way to "maintain the peace". At the same time, the officers were placed in a difficult situation because of poor planning by the event's organisers, as well as the Fire Service personnel who were responsible for approving the arrangements.

At the heart of the matter was the desire by Pan Trinbago to make money off the Panorama competition, a notoriously elusive goal in a society which views this particular Carnival event, though not free, as a free-for-all.

It was Pan Trinbago which blocked off the Greens from the North Stand, in order to ensure nobody got in without paying.

"We have to find ways to be viable and this was one such way," said Pan Trinbago president Keith Diaz, who in the next breath asserted that the organisation was not to be blamed for the "fracas".

Additionally, the crowd's anger was exacerbated by certain individuals being allowed through the barrier, which some patrons took as political favouritism. The stretched claim of politics in this scenario, rather than the more likely interpretation that these persons knew somebody who was manning the barrier, reveals how over-sensitive citizens now are to cues of unfair treatment.

What really added insult to injury, however, was the fact that, after police had used their batons to beat down some patrons, the barriers were eventually removed as the crowd became more restive.

So Mr Gibbs's facile assertion that his officers will "do what they have to do in order to maintain the peace for our citizens" fails on three counts: one, his officers started the violence by hitting citizens; two, peace was eventually kept by doing what the crowd wanted instead of controlling their undisciplined behaviour; and, three, effective policing depends on proportional responses, not taking any and every means to keep a kind of peace which may not fit the Carnival culture.

In any case, Commissioner Gibbs apparently doesn't know that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service has for decades done an excellent job of preserving the peace during Carnival events, especially in respect to crowd control in the two-day parade of bands. Indeed, the TTPS has this down to so fine an art that police officers from London and other big cities have visited T&T to see how it is done.

What happened on Sunday is therefore quite anomalous, and CoP Gibbs, instead of patting his officers on the back, should be investigating what went wrong. And, once he figures it out, he must work with Mr Diaz, the Fire Service, and all Carnival officials to avoid creating future recipes for similar chaos.

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