Last Sunday to Tuesday residents of Beetham Gardens staged a continuing protest which they say was meant to draw attention to their “demands for justice”. It is a fact that a resident of Beetham was shot by the police on Sunday afternoon.
The reason or cause is as yet not known but while it has been reported that the police contend the deceased had a firearm, his family and other residents claim he was unarmed and was not a person who engaged in illegal activity.
In the event the residents engaged in sustained protests which took the form of blocking the Beetham Highway, one of the main arteries into the capital city, with debris and other items, causing major traffic jams.
They also engaged in throwing missiles, bricks and stones included, at passing vehicles and confronted the armed forces verbally, using annoying and sometimes obscene language. At least one person, a child, was injured as a result and vehicles were damaged.
The reaction of the security forces was to simply remove the debris time and again. When things became worse on Tuesday shots were fired in the air by soldiers while the police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
DCP Richardson claimed he went there to have a “discussion” with the residents but this was not possible since the residents were bent on blocking traffic by forming human trains. In answer to a question as to why persons were not arrested he claimed in essence that he did not want to aggravate this situation. This might have appeared “high handed”.
If such a protest had occurred elsewhere than in Port of Spain I wonder if the policing authorities would have been so restrained.
Clearly criminal offences such as throwing missiles, malicious damage, obstruction of traffic and use of obscene language were committed not to mention obstruction of the police in the execution of their duty. Not one person was arrested far less charged for any of these offences.
If the intention in not doing so was to quell the situation it did not work and the residents might have become more emboldened to the extent that by Tuesday they were throwing objects at the security forces themselves.
To date it seems that many of these residents feel that because one of their number may have been wrongly killed by the police this was a licence for them to do anything they wished to voice their displeasure.
Apparently their view is that violence should be the response to perceived violence. What followed on Wednesday supports that kind of thinking.
On that day some residents burnt the Newsday newspaper for printing in a composite photo a picture of one aged resident raising her dress (presumably as a mark of protest) and showing her underwear. They claim this was an attempt to cause “further stigmatisation and embarrassment to the people of the area”. At the time of writing the police were said to be investigating a report of a threat to burn down the newspaper’s office.
It seems to me it is the residents by their own actions who have embarrassed themselves and reinforced the stigma of criminality, often associated with Beetham Gardens.
It is not the first time reports have been made of criminal activity en masse from the Beetham including, but not limited to, robbery of passing motorists. The stoning and damaging of vehicles recalled just that.
As for the semi-violent protest against the Newsday this in itself could have led to threats made against the newspaper, if they in fact were.
While the publishing of the particular photo was not desirable, the fact is it was not concocted. Whether the woman in the photo was mentally unwell or not she was out there at some point in the various protests and raised her dress in public. None of her now-concerned neighbours sought to protect her from herself at the time or to take her away from the scene. That would have been the better thing to do.
If Beetham residents do not wish to be embarrassed or stigmatised should they not behave in a manner which reinforces the negative stereotyping of their area? What were young girls and children doing in the protest on Monday and Tuesday? Should they not have been at school?
Beetham residents should pay heed to what Dr Rowley had to say about the “bigger issues” in the area. What is the rate of school drop-outs in that area and why are most of them not seizing the free education opportunities in this country?
It is a known fact that one sure way out of poverty is through education and yet with all the stated desire to better themselves, residents of such areas seem not to bother with this option.
DOMA in an immediate response to the incident put out a statement stating that young Afro-Trinidadian males were being the target of profiling. What exactly are they talking about?
The fact is that for the last two decades the scientific evidence points to young African males as being predominantly involved in violent crime. They predominate in gangs and in the prison population. The majority of gang activity in T&T is concentrated in Port of Spain and its inner areas and nearly half the murders occur in these areas.
People who live in the Beetham and areas which have negative reputations in terms of criminality have to be careful about reinforcing such reputation by their own actions.
Instead of calling for sustainable jobs for which they are not qualified they should require focus on prevention and intervention programmes to keep their youth out of gangs and criminal activity. Then they could talk about undeserved stigmatisation.
Instead they are proving to be their own worst enemies.
• Dana Seetahal is a former