BEDLAM was the order of the day with residents of the Beetham Gardens yesterday exchanging gunfire with police after they shot and killed resident, 23-year-old Christopher Greaves, on Sunday.
The gun battle caused the police to declare the area “a virtual war zone”.
After the killing of Greaves on Sunday evening, the residents threw debris and started fires in the path of motorists on that section of the Beetham Highway.
This caused traffic to be diverted on to the Eastern Main Road by the police on Sunday. As a result of the killing of Greaves, a father of two, residents yesterday kept their promise to continue protesting. They said it will not end until the officers responsible for his death are arrested and prosecuted.
Yesterday’s protest, which continued with the blockage of the east-bound lane of the Beetham Highway and the Priority Bus Route (PBR) with debris, hindering the flow of traffic, soon escalated.
Police used gas canisters in an attempt to disperse the crowd as residents faced off with officers.
But this was not the height of the instability in the area. Around 1 p.m., after a brief calm, following the intervention of Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, members of the media were forced to take cover as the sound of rapid gunfire was heard at different locations throughout the East Port of Spain community.
It was while making their way through an alley at Phase Five, that reporters heard the first volley of shots followed by the sight of residents scampering for safety.
Police said they were shot at and then opted to returned fire. The residents, however, claimed otherwise saying the police were taking a heavy-handed approach in attempting to bring the protest action to an end, by shooting at unarmed members of the area.
Up to last night, there were no reports of anyone being injured or arrested during the protests.
As the shootout continued, three national security helicopters hovered above as the officers occasionally blocked off the highway, taking up strategic positions on top their vehicles and aiming in the direction of the sound of the gunfire.
A motorist, whose path was temporarily blocked along the highway was visibly shaken and in tears as the shots were being exchanged.
Media workers were warned.
“Do not go in there. You can go in, you know, but it is at your own risk because those people are firing at the police. It is not safe,” Richardson, told reporters.
The shootout, which started at Phase Five, soon spread to Third Street, closer to the PBR. Officers there were dressed in full riot gear, keeping the protesters at bay.
Several of the residents said in the absence of the media, officers physically assaulted “a sick and old man” identified as “Baba”.
“We tell allyuh not to leave here. Allyuh is we protection right now. As soon as allyuh went they just start beating people and shooting at people,” the resident told the media.
Reporters were shown several bullet casings by residents, which appeared to be the ones used in high-powered assault rifles. They said the shells came from the guns belonging to the officers.
One man claimed the officers who killed Greaves were contracted to do so by a well-known gang leader in John John, Port of Spain.
Up to late yesterday evening, officers said there was a high police presence in the area, as they anticipated further clashes with the residents last night.
Officers said their presence was to also maintain the free flow of traffic in order to ensure the safety of motorists and the travelling public who were required to venture close to Beetham Gardens in order to make their way home.
Despite the free flow of traffic however, many commuters remained stranded in the capital city yesterday evening, due to the large number of taxi drivers who were not willing to enter Port of Spain due to the protest action, said some commuters.
Greaves was shot and killed on Sunday evening after police said he was seen in the area with a nine millimetre handgun in his possession.
The residents on the other hand said this was not true. They maintained Greaves was not armed, stating he had never been in trouble with the law. They said he had gone to a shop in the area to purchase a soft drink when he was chased and killed by the officers.
“It is very sad to know the boy dead. It is very sad. I didn’t see what happen, because I was sleeping and when I woke up I hear that the boy dead and it hurt my feelings because the boy grew up in my hands. He grew up with my children,” said Leslie Harrigin.
Harrigin said Greaves was his neighbour and never found himself to be in trouble with the law.
Asked his views on the protest action, Harrigin said: “Well the boy died innocently. If he was involved in something, then I could say that the residents are wrong.
“I born and grow here and they (the police) just advantaging Beetham. John John and Laventille people coming and shooting up here, but they police not going up there. They only coming here,” he said.
Residents said they will be continuing their protest for the remainder of this week and beyond.