HIS death at the hands of police sparked riots in his hometown in East Port of Spain. But yesterday, there were no riots but rather tears as Akel James’ friends, family and associates came out to bid a final farewell to the man known simply as, “Christmas.”
Twenty-two years ago, James was brought to the home of his great aunt Geraldine Baptiste on Basilon Street as a healthy, bouncing baby. He returned to the same house yesterday but this time, in a coffin. James, who was shot dead on February 19, was laid to rest at the Lapeyrouse Cemetery in Port of Spain, following his funeral at the Pentecostal Cathedral on Duke Street in Port of Spain.
At the viewing at the end of the service, James’ closest associates took his coffin and journeyed to Baptiste’s home because the 94-year-old woman was too frail to attend the funeral. On seeing James’ body, Baptiste gasped and then began to wail. The sobbing woman was helped back into her home by relatives.
“I remember he first came here as a baby,” said one of Baptiste’s neighbours. “I had just come home from work and someone told me the old lady (Baptiste) wanted to see me. When I went, she told me she got a Christmas present. I asked what it was and she said it was on the bed. When I went in the bedroom, I saw this sweet little baby boy on the bed,” the woman said. From that day forward, James’ nickname was, “Christmas”.
There was a heavy police presence as the church during the funeral and the only disturbance to the peace, was the sound of weeping and wailing during the funeral.
During the eulogy, James was described as miserable but athletic, friendly, playful and loving. After spending a year and nine months in jail, he came out intent on doing everything he could to spend more time with his daughter Peyton, the gathering was told. “Being away from his daughter was very emotional for him,” said Rhea Edwards and Shyanne Morris who read the eulogy.
“He would call his mother five times a day to hear her voice and tell her that he loved her. When he got out, every morning and evening he would take his daughter for walks. He will always say he missed so much out of his life that he did not intend to miss any more. He would cater to her every need. He was making arrangements to get Peyton into a preschool when he was killed.” During the pre-dawn hours of Monday February 19, James was shot dead in an incident described by police as a shootout when they went to his house to execute a search warrant. His death sparked riots with East PoS residents burning rubbish in the middle of Observatory Street and later confronting the police. The matter is being investigated by the Police Service’s Professional Standards Bureau and the Police Complaints Authority.