“Today is my day, your day will come.” Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday channelled late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, giving criminals and the communities that enable them an ultimatum against “terrorising” law-abiding citizens.
“As you encourage wrongdoing when you know that persons have suffered that kind of injustice, if that becomes the way of life in the community it is only a matter of time before you get put out,” Rowley avowed, as he addressed the nation from the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.
He was responding to Thursday’s protest in the Beetham community when residents objected to the arrests of two people by blocking the Beetham Highway with debris and firing gunshots at police.
“The conduct yesterday (Thursday) that had the effect of shutting down the nation’s capital, terrorising those who were caught in it… the trauma that the national community experienced yesterday must not and will not be tolerated.”
He acknowledged protests have been taking place across the country for “quite some time” as citizens express their frustrations in a way that would guarantee national attention but, in so doing, end up breaking the law.
He suggested some people were exploiting these protests to exert control over their communities.
“People who are calling on others to break the law, incite violence and who justify it in whatever way, will find no sympathy from the government.”
Protests had become the normal way for people to express themselves, he said, but after Thursday, where citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of movement was restricted, a line had to be drawn.
What happened on Thursday, he said, could have “turned out quite nasty” if officers had reacted differently.
Police had reason to go into the Port of Spain area and question some people, he said, and the community reacted by obstructing the police from conducting these lawful activities. This attitude was advocating anarchy as a way of life in Trinidad, he said.
“This kind of development only guarantees fewer resources are available for services. Suppose we were more peaceful and had less crime. We could spend one or two billion less on national security. (Think of) what more we could have done.”
Rowley also addressed unlawful evictions. He said he had raised the issue with the former government when he was in opposition after meeting a man who had been forced to live in a back room of his house after two men invaded and subsequently took up residence there.
He said such invaders should face extra punishment and he was instructing the Commissioner of Police, with support from the Defence Force, to crack down on illegal evictions.
“People who own property have a right to close it. You do not have a right to access it. That is trespassing and you will be arrested and charged.”