LAW WILL PREVAIL
By Alexander Bruzual and Clint Chan Tack Wednesday, August 21 2013
EVEN while East Port-of-Spain residents were paying their final respects to 16-year-old Rasheeda Gomez — who was brutally killed one week ago in a shooting spree that saw six people in the capital city and environs slain by gunmen — anti-crime initiatives in the community continued at a fervent pace with round-the-clock police patrols along Nelson and Duncan Streets.
Despite this, the atmosphere in the community was one of uneasiness as some residents said they were bracing for another shooting spree, since it was believed that Sunday’s police exercise which saw 90 persons detained, may have made the situation worse.
However, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Mervyn Richardson is pleading with members of the public to be patient with the police approach to crime in East Port-of-Spain, assuring that their efforts will soon bear fruit.
“The initiatives we have put in place recently have yet to bare fruit. They have now been planted in the ground, so to speak, so please bear with us, because soon, we will all reap the rewards of our endeavours, as we work towards bringing this country back to a state of peace and normalcy,” Richardson told Newsday yesterday.
His assurance was given even as residents say they fear the police action has angered gangs.
“Them police come in here swinging their guns and their power and detained bout 100 people. But all they did was anger them gang men. They hold them for a few days and then release them. So now them boys agitated, and with the police moving in and out, they can’t run their racket like they used to. Last week they killed a set of men just to send a message,” declared an elderly man who spoke to Newsday on condition of anonymity.
The man described the mood in the community “like a pressure cooker just waiting to explode”, adding that those most at risk were “women and children and innocent people who just trying to survive in this place.”
At about 1pm yesterday, only small groups of teenaged boys and girls were liming outside the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) apartment buildings between Duncan and Nelson Streets. There was no traffic on the roads.
“Most people gone that child (Gomez) funeral. The rest who here, they afraid to come outside. Things get better since last week. But that doesn’t take away from the horror that we experience last week. People just don’t feel safe in here anymore. Not at all. And what are the police doing really? They hold people and then release them? Why is that?” asked one resident.
Richardson acknowledged that while persons were released earlier this week, he said further exercises would be done again in the near future.
“No, some people have not been charged as yet, and yes some of the detained people have been released. You see, we are still in the process of gathering the relevant information and evidence which will be crucial and beneficial to the prosecution side of things. You can rest assured that when we do, the police will return to these communities, and arrests will be made again,” Richardson said.
He said residents have voiced their fears and appealed for help.
“When I went there last week, there were women and children who were holding onto my pants and my shirt, asking me, begging me, to do something because they were being told (by gangsters) that their lives were in danger, and they (the gangsters) were not afraid to shoot women and children,” Richardson said. “It is heartbreaking to hear that the most vulnerable people in our society are the ones who are being targeted and crying out for help. You can rest assured that the police are taking the necessary action to help.”
On Sunday, about 300 police officers, along with K-9 dogs, took up strategic positions at Duncan, Nelson, Prince and George streets while Defence Force soldiers ensured there was no entry in or exit out of the cordoned off areas. The objective of the exercise, which included supervision and assistance from ACP Glen Hackett, Snr Supt Wayne Boyd, ASP Ajith Persad, Inspector Sahadeo Singh, and Inspector Harvey Jawahir, was to flush out criminal elements and seek out arms and ammunition, also drugs, believed to be hidden in HDC apartments.
Police sources informed Newsday yesterday that of the 90 persons who were held, 46 have since been released, while 41 others remained in custody. Newsday was also informed that charges were expected to be laid against two of the detainees for possession of marijuana. On Monday, three persons were charged and fined for simple marijuana possession.
As the security forces continued their operations in East Port-of-Spain, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday announced she will meet with residents at the South-East Port-of-Spain Secondary School on Nelson Street from 1.30 pm today to discuss the upsurge in criminal activity in the area. Persad-Bissessar visited the area last Thursday, the day after Gomez, her cousin Naim Antoine, 16, and Sean Lewis Jr, 17, were gunned down in separate shootings. Three men were also killed last Wednesday in Port-of-Spain and environs. In a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said it was important for her to return to the area to listen to residents and to see how they can be helped.
“My last visit was very emotional as it came just days after several teenagers were killed. This cannot continue, and we must find a way to deal with it very effectively. I am hopeful that at the end of this meeting, some solutions can be offered to the residents there,” she added.
During her first visit, Persad-Bissessar cried when she listened to Antoine’s mother account of how he was dragged from his bed and shot in the street. She also met residents, most of them women, who told her the numerous problems they face every day. Gang warfare among the youths was a main concern, however the residents identified six major complaints to Persad-Bissessar which also demanded immediate action.
These were high unemployment among the youths; too many dropouts from the school system; mothers being unable to care for their children when they go to work; drugs and gambling on the streets and in the HDC Plannings; armed outsiders lurking in their area at nights and the dilapidated condition of the HDC apartments. Residents offered solutions to Persad-Bissessar, which they said would make the area a safer place. Last week, Persad-Bissessar promised to establish a police/army post at Building 42 on Duncan Street and the establishment of a centre, outfitted with computers for the children of the area.
Proposals will be made at today’s meeting for elderly persons in the community to supervise the children in these centres, since there is a reluctance by outsiders to work in the area. A review of existing work programmes under several government ministries and the creation of new jobs for young people; the reintroduction of community policing; enlisting the services of priests; providing milk money for single mothers and planting of flowers and vegetables in grow boxes are some strategies being considered by Government to foster stronger community life and curb crime in East Port-of-Spain.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, National Security Minister Emmanuel George and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Rodger Samuel will also be at today’s meeting.
Tomorrow, Persad-Bissessar meets with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s at 3.30 pm to discuss solutions to crime in TT. They met at the same venue last Friday.
Following that meeting Persad-Bissessar and Rowley agreed to collaborate on any amendment or adjustment to any existing, or new laws with respect to the challenges posed by crime. There was agreement to implement legislative measures to deal with the issues of criminal gangs, witness protection and witness tampering.
Government and the Opposition will also consider new laws, such as creating a new offence regarding the displacement of residents by criminals. Government and Opposition have agreed to work together to untangle the hurdles which would give effect to the death penalty.
Persad-Bissessar will be joined at tomorrow’s meeting by Ramlogan and George. Rowley’s team will include Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald, PNM vice-chairman Camille Robinson-Regis and Opposition Senators Fitzgerald Hinds and Terrence Deyalsingh. McDonald is also Port-of-Spain South MP and Duncan Street falls within her constituency.
On the proposed police/army post, Police Social and Welfare Association president Sgt Anand Ramesar said there would be challenges to the establishment of this post and the association had not been consulted about it. Ramesar said the association remains committed to working with the Government and Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams to deal with crime but demands that proper respect is accorded to it as the representative of police officers.
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