Police, soldiers clash with Beetham residents
By ALEXANDER BRUZUAL Tuesday, September 3 2013
click on pic to zoom in
ANGRY CLASH: Sgt Drakes of the Guard and Emergency Branch is confronted by protesting Beetham Gardens residents yesterday. ...
Tensions ran high yesterday as police and soldiers clashed with Beetham Gardens residents as they protested the killing of 25-year-old Christopher Greaves by police on Sunday.
Throughout the day, the Priority Bus Route (PBR) and the east-bound lane of the Beetham Highway were blocked by residents who played a “cat and mouse” game with officials — as soon as officers assembled to clear debris from one location, residents would pile debris at the other location, creating a traffic jam in the process.
At about midday, traffic had to be diverted from the PBR to the Eastern Main Road, as residents had thrown a couch onto the bus route and formed a “human barrier” across the road.
The protesters were eventually moved and traffic was allowed to flow. However, tensions remained high as women and young children continued to loudly verbalise their displeasure with Greaves’ death at the hands of the police.
All the while, National Security helicopters circled Beetham Gardens and the police continued to plead with residents to settle down and observe the rule of law.
Several police units were called out to the scene including the Guard and Emergency Branch, North Eastern Division Task Force, Port-of-Spain CID, and the Inter Agency Task Force. Among the officers on the scene were Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, ACP Stephen Ramsubhag, Senior Superintendent Carlton Alleyne, Senior Superintendent Wayne Boyd, Superintendent Huggins, ASP Ajith Persad, Inspector Harvey Jawahir, Inspector Agilal, Inspector Mohammed, and Sgt Cornelius Samuel.
About 1.30 pm, the tense situation exploded as officers and residents clashed and the sounds of gunshots rang out.
About this time, residents left the PBR and made their way to the highway, where they were confronted by police and soldiers.
A group of women and young men proceeded to form a circle around Deputy Commissioner Richardson, hurling insults and demanding “that justice be served.” Richardson repeatedly warned them to step back but his commands went unheeded.
Police and soldiers in riot gear then formed a line in front of the deputy commissioner. As tensions continued to rise, the residents started throwing rocks and various forms of debris at a truck that was moving toward them, driven by an armed soldier.
Police and soldiers pushed forward in closed formation with their shields held in front of them and began driving residents behind the southern wall of the Gardens. As residents angrily pushed back, rubber bullets and tear gas rounds were fired by members of the protective services.
In the chaos, residents said about 12 persons were injured, including three children and a pregnant woman. However, up to press time this could not be confirmed.
About 30 minutes later, a similar incident occurred along Third Street in Beetham Gardens in the vicinity of the highway. Residents claimed that a group of police had opened fire on them, hitting several persons in the process.
After these two incidents, residents returned to their homes, or gathered along the roadway under the watchful eye of the police. Up to press time, no further attempts were made to block either the PBR or the highway.
As a result of yesterday’s activities, senior police officials told Newsday yesterday that they will be maintaining a 24/7 presence in the community.
“Well based on how they (the residents) are operating, this cat-and-mouse technique they are using, we will be deploying officers in static and mobile formations at strategic points in the community. As it is right now, due to the current gang war between Beetham and Laventille, some of the residents will not be coming on the main road, because that area is off limits to them. So this is why their focus is on the bus route and the highway. So we will be placing the police in these areas and various other locations overnight to ensure that the commuting public is not affected by any illegal activities,” explained a police official.
Speaking to members of the media yesterday, Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams confirmed DCP Richardson had been appointed to directly lead the officers who were positioned at Beetham Gardens.
While he didn’t want to comment on the matter as he was awaiting an update on the situation, Williams did say that the police will be taking a tougher approach on citizens who adopt “fiery protests” as their means of expression.
He said, “There would reach the point that, somewhere along the line, while we keep on being as cooperative as possible and continue recognising the people’s right to express their views and feelings on a matter, we will have to get tough. And we are certainly at that point right now, and we will have to get extremely tough.
“We need to send a clear signal to citizens that they need to follow the right way to bring home their concerns, and as a society we cannot continue to condone citizens who do not.
“Take for instance these persons, who are blocking the roadways right now, want to speak of rights, and their rights, and how it was supposedly being breached. But what about the rights of the normal citizens who are trying to get to work or to home? The normal citizen who is travelling along the bus route, or the main road, or the highway? What of their rights?
“Citizens need to know that if you block the road, then you are obstructing the free passageway, and this is an offence. Now it may not be an offence which carries a massive penalty, but it is a criminal offence nonetheless and we will get tougher on enforcing this.”
Greaves, 25, died on Sunday afternoon following a confrontation with police officers on mobile patrol. Police reports indicate that he was armed at the time and that he had initiated a shootout with the officers.
However, residents refute this, saying the man was unarmed and that after he was wounded he was left to bleed on the ground for over 30 minutes as the police refused to give assistance.