Reaching out to the Beetham
Even as the majority of citizens jumped on the bandwagon to condemn violent protest acts by Beetham residents, leaders of two business organisations this week strove to strike a balance between empathy for underprivileged fellow citizens and the obligation to uphold law and order.
In a reassuring show of mature civic-mindedness, Gregory Aboud, head of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA), and Catherine Kumar, CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, were both moved to comment on the confrontation between Beetham residents and police backed up by heavily-armed soldiers. The confrontation followed the hotly disputed shooting of Christopher Greaves, a 23-year-old father of two, whom the police claim they killed in self-defence. But the Beetham spokespersons say the police officers involved carried out an execution. Conflict was almost inevitable.
While the usual “grassroots” spokespersons remained mute, Mr Aboud and Ms Kumar, representing the very group often painted by anti-capitalist ideologues and populist politicians as the “real criminals”, came forward to urge both empathy and reasonableness. Mr Aboud warned against both the “profiling” of young Afro-Trinidadians and the law enforcers’ “excessive” show of force against protesters. Ms Kumar lamented that “there could have been a better way” than the police response and concluded that “you can almost lay blame on no one”.
These top businesspeople had obviously agonised over the ugly scenes nationally witnessed, while at the same time deploring actions of blatant indiscipline and disorder. They noted that the overwrought Beetham people need help and deserve sensitive understanding. They might also have observed that the police showed notable restraint in the face of illegal provocations by the protesters but, in this context, any praise for the police must be cautiously conferred.
The fact is, the eruption from Beetham was entirely predictable. From the moment the policemen involved reported the killing of Greaves to their superiors, senior officers should have made it their business to go to the Beetham and speak to the dead man’s relatives and to the community as a whole. Had they done so, the protest and the resultant inconvenience and injuries may all have been avoided.
Be that as it may, in Ms Kumar’s and Mr Aboud’s statements, understanding is abundantly present; however, what remains undersupplied is the concrete help needed to lift the East Port of Spain people out of the adverse circumstances that surround them. Ms Kumar’s leadership in seeking more private sector support for the Chamber’s “Jump Start” programme is thus as relevant as it is timely.
Without such initiatives, no matter what the outcome of enquiry into Greaves’s death, the social and economic deprivation of the people of the Beetham is likely to persist for generations yet unborn.