Police yesterday denied they released two Beetham Gardens residents held on enquiries during an early morning raid, in an attempt to quell protesting residents who had vowed to continue blocking the main arteries out of the capital until the men were freed.
In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, Port-of-Spain Division head, senior superintendent Floris Hodge-Griffith, said the men’s release was not linked to any attempt to appease the residents, some of whom attacked and robbed motorists leaving the city after blocking the eastbound roads on the Beetham Highway and Priority Bus Route (PBR) with debris.
According to assistant commissioner of police Radcliffe Boxhill, the men were held and released after they met the necessary criteria. Asked why the protest was allowed to happen, Boxhill said it was a lapse in judgment.
“We had adequate police looking on and after a few hours we saw nothing happening, we decided to leave and when we did they began protesting. It was a false sense of security, but when we responded we cleared everything up quickly,” Boxhill said.
Beetham residents began blocking the roads around 10 a.m. following the arrest of one of their community leaders. Kenneth Spanish Rodriquez and Ancel Chemist Villafana were held around 7.30 a.m. at phase four, as police conducted an exercise. Both men were detained at the Besson Street Police Station and released two hours apart, with Villafana being free after he paid an outstanding $2,000 for a fine he received some time ago.
There was bumper to bumper traffic for hours as motorists fled the capital in droves to escape being trapped during the afternoon rush hour. The congestion was cleared around 1 pm. So bad was the traffic that police turned a single eastbound lane of the PBR to a double lane.
Residents denied they blocked the roads and shot at officers over the arrests, adding the protest was a plea for jobs in the area.
One resident told the media the two men had children and “nothing on them”, so it was unjust for the officers to arrest them.
“They arrest the people just so and we don’t like it so we decide to act on we own. They (police) ain’t get no gun, no weed, no nothing, so why they doing that? People fed up, mothers need jobs, we frustrated plus we getting harassed, what else we would do? I and all come to block the road, I wanted some tyres to light up to let people feel it in the traffic so when they start to feel they (the government) could say alright let we go and listen to the voice of the Beetham people,” a woman said.
Police said they will have to review footage taken from their drones and CCTV cameras before any arrests could be made. They said there were several offences which occurred, including the hijacking of a garbage truck which was used to block the road. Hodge-Griffith said while she was removing debris from the highway she was shot at and
officers will be reviewing CCTV footage to identify the shooters who escaped in the “maze.”
Some car owners reported that their vehicles were hit by stray bullets and police said they received reports that motorists were robbed as they remained stuck in traffic. Some reported that their windows were damaged while some delivery trucks were reportedly looted.
The blocking of the main roadways by Beetham residents is not new, as there were similar incidents in 2011 and 2013.
“There is no justification for criminality,” acting police commissioner Stephen Williams said in response to yesterday’s protests.
“This is a straight case of lawlessness by the residents . . . because of the major raids carried out in the Beetham there has been this reaction by members in carrying out these lawless acts.”
Also responding to a declaration of war on police by some members of the community who claimed they were responding to unfair treatment by his officers, Williams said: “I don’t know too much on the declaration of war against the police, but the police are employed by the citizens to address crime and to ensure that the environment is safe . . . anyone declaring war against the police would be doing so against the law-abiding citizens in T&T. We all must ensure that we do not endorse and support the lawlessness.”
Williams said the protest action disappointed him as he thought the community was beginning to change in a positive manner.
“Just this morning I was sharing with my wife that Beetham and Sea Lots seems to be improving and now hearing and seeing this has me so shocked. The residents have now set back themselves by this.”
With more threats for continued protest action, Williams gave the assurance there would be a continued heavy presence of police and soldiers. Up to late last night heavily armed police and soldiers remained in the community in a bid to ensure peace and bring a sense of safety to the travelling public.