Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith is appealing to local demonstrators supporting the United States-based Black Lives Matter movement to be more responsible going forward, reminding that the country is still trying to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections and laws remain in place to ensure this is adhered to.
“People need to be responsible and understand: do not let your emotion get to the point that you breach the regulation, that you probably be infected, God forbid and get back home to your loved ones and children,” Griffith told Guardian Media while visiting a demonstration outside the United States Embassy in Port-of-Spain yesterday.
“You want to protest, let the protest be done in an amicable manner. Do not break the law. Adhere to the regulations as much as possible.”
Following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA, on May 25, mass protests broke out across the US against the continued killing of black people there by the police. It has also led to an outpouring of solidarity to the plight and sparked discussions on injustices faced by people of African descent around the world—even in T&T.
While yesterday’s local protest was a peaceful one, tensions rose when one demonstrator snatched a police officer’s hat and “flipped” him off, while others attempted to stop the officer, who was part of the TTPS’ camera crew, from filming the activity.
Griffith said while in his view the demonstration got out of control at that point, he exercised flexibility as he understood the community’s pain and stood in solidarity with them.
“Had that person been arrested then it would have been a whole different angle in how the ball would have swung,” he said.
“The regulations in the Public Health Ordinance went totally out the window with this situation that took place…this is a very sensitive time in the world. This is a very sensitive time in this country to push the envelope, even to the extent that it causes greater concern and pain.”
This is why Griffith said he used his discretion in overlooking the obvious violations of the Public Health Regulations which, for the past two months, have prohibited gatherings of more than five in public with a fine of $50,000 and six months imprisonment for breaching it.
“This meeting that took place here, in many other countries persons would have been arrested, the crowd dispersed and there would have been a confrontation with the police,” Griffith said.
“You did not see that. The police service, in fact, we stand in solidarity with the persons who are hurting, who are in pain.”
Given the events that transpired yesterday, Griffith was if he would approve further requests for such demonstrations.
“Yes. I am going to grant it…I would give such permission for a situation like this,” he said.
Speaking during the demonstration, spokesman for the group, Muhammad Muwakil, said, “We standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the United States at this point in time but also to bring light to some of the issues that affect us here. We are not exempt from racism and white supremacy and we should not feel that we are.”
Earlier yesterday, US Ambassador Joseph Mondello also interacted with the demonstrators, although the numbers at that time were significantly less.