FLASH protests and escalating disorder at Sea Lots, following the killing by a runaway car of a mother and two daughters, stand as an object lesson in the present perilous closeness of the blood to the national skin. Sudden fatal violence, even if from accidental causes, is capable of triggering uncontrollable reactions, ranging from the public weeping and gnashing of teeth by relatives to the barricading with fire and debris of major roadways.
All of that happened on the Beetham Highway on Sunday and yesterday. The familiar pattern followed the killing of two children and their mother, and the serious injuries inflicted on three other pedestrians.
To this must be added the responses of police programmed and equipped for suppression of the riot and affray. In consequence came the wrenching media images of tragedy, grief, anger, and of the heavy hand raised to uphold law and order.
All too commonly, flaming barricades and the violent disruption of public passage have arisen from ostensible causes far less tear-jerking than last weekend’s Sea Lots episode. T&T has likely been becoming used to such eventualities, but tolerance will not automatically extend to the inconveniences such as those suffered by commuters into Port of Spain on Sunday and yesterday.
At Sea Lots, the finger of blame quickly found a target in the State, represented by the police and the emergency services. Both were seen to be less than urgently responding to the needs of the injured and the dying. Bystanders contrasted the police’s whisking away of the driver of the runaway car with their insistence on awaiting the arrival of ambulances.
Especially so, when that driver was discovered to have been an off-duty policeman. Trust that officialdom will do the right thing, and not corruptly play favourites, must now be assessed as dangerously low.
It is thus a positive sign that acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams has affirmed: “There is no intention by the Police Service to cover up any incident involving police officers.” Referring to the killer-car driver on Sunday, he assured investigations will be “timely and proper”, including the testing of the blood-alcohol level of the officer involved.
Other official answers to concerns voiced in Sea Lots should include the actual response time of the ambulance service. Whatever factors delayed paramedical attention to the victims, while neighbours and relatives wailed and wrung their hands, should be made clear, with definite pointers toward corrective action.
What are the ground rules governing the use by police of tear gas and rubber bullets; to what responsibility levels is such decision-making assigned? Are the decisions and outcomes subject to review by the Police Complaints Authority or other competent body? In Sea Lots and elsewhere, T&T needs to know.