THE Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) yesterday expressed concern over what it said appeared to be the profiling of young Afro-Trinidadian males.
DOMA made the statement in a release on the violence in Beetham over the past two days, in which it also warned that the use of heavy weaponry against unarmed Beetham residents—particularly children—could spark an explosion of greater violence.
The association, which is headed by businessman Gregory Aboud, said it does not condone unlawfulness, but questions must arise from repeated claims from North Trinidad’s depressed communities of police brutality.
Beetham residents rose up in protest last Sunday and again on Monday, following the killing by police of resident Christopher Greaves, 23, that afternoon.
Protesters claimed Greaves was unarmed, and he bled to death 30 minutes after being shot while police prevented onlookers from going to his aid.
As the protest grew, some residents blocked traffic and hurled abuse and missiles at the police while armed forces waded in with tear gas, firing into the air to disperse the crowd.
DOMA said news footage of the clashes were viewed “with great concern”.
“While we pledge our full support to the Police Service, we must make it known that in the poor neighbourhoods of the East-West Corridor, the claim of police brutality and injudicious killings have been left unanswered for too long,” DOMA stated.
“Few from civil society have spoken in defence of the young people, exclusively Afro-Trinidadians, who seem constantly the target of the very profiling of which we have recently heard so many complaints in the United States. While we continue to pray for the safety of the men and women in our protective services, we also wish to express the need for our nation to pray for the safety of these young, fellow Afro-Trinidadian citizens who, it seems, are greatly endangered for the way that they dress, the way that they plait their hair and the way that they run when they see the police,” DOMA said.
DOMA however stressed it fully supported the imposition of law and order and no one should be allowed to obstruct active highways, such as the Eastern Main Road and the Beetham Highway.
“We also totally condemn the hurling of rocks and missiles at the protective services, but we feel constrained to express our concerns regarding the level of force which was used since it seemed somewhat excessive, given the unarmed residents, many of whom were teenage boys and girls,” the organisation added, pointing out there have been instances where unruly crowds were controlled and repelled with batons and long staffs.
“We do understand the stresses which police officers and members of the army face in` the performance of their duties, but we know from history that returning violence with great violence only multiplies violence,” the association stated.
“The use of superior weaponry and great force can bring the possibility of residents one day becoming armed in retaliation, and this has become a reality in several neighbouring jurisdictions, most notably in Kingston, Jamaica,” it added.
According to DOMA, this is not the first time residents of the capital city’s underprivileged environs have claimed they were prevented from rendering aid and were therefore forced to watch as members of their community died.
In February, similar protests occurred in Sea Lots, following the deaths of Haydee Paul and her two young daughters, Shakira and Akasha, after a runaway car driven by a policeman slammed into them and three others outside the Central Market.
Of the other three, two were discharged while Ryan Rampersad has remained in hospital, paralysed.
Residents of Sea Lots had then claimed to have been prevented from helping the crash victims and erupted in protest, burning rubble on the Beetham Highway and locking off Port of Spain.
With the recent 50th anniversary celebration of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech of slain American activist Dr Martin Luther King, the association also has a dream of peace between those who enforce the law and those who are seen as primary law-breakers.
Quoting King, who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, DOMA said the facts around Greaves’ death must become known.
“We trust that the understanding of those given the duty of protecting our citizens and our country will be brought to bear on this and future situations, so that the rights and duties of our protective services are balanced against the rights and entitlements of our citizens, especially the poorest among us,” the association stated.