THE EDITOR: Authority is very much like a coin, it has two sides. Just as one would be sceptical of a coin that only had one face, we must be sceptical of those in authority who only bear, show or act on one face of their coin. The faces I’m discussing are power and responsibility. A principle all our elected officials should be acquainted with and mindful of.
With this in mind, I’d like us as a nation to consider Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith’s response to the demonstrations that occurred at the south gate of The UWI on Thursday. Students and members of the Student Guild held a protest against the lack of security on campus and the administrations perceived lack of interest in the situation.
In a media release, from the TTPS Corporate Communications Unit, the need for protests to be “done within the confines of the law” is emphasised. Also highlighted is the fact that the TTPS is “duty bound and prepared to enforce all laws which govern this country.”
Firstly, in considering the former quote, I have no qualms about urging citizens to remember to conduct themselves in accordance with the law. It is fitting for such a reminder to come from someone serving in his position. However, the lack of reference to the law(s) being mentioned is concerning. It is a strange omittance, that it would not be included in the media release or as supplementary material. I’m also curious as to how many of the officers at the site would have been able to say which laws were relevant.
That aside, the fact that this was a protest means that there was a strong enough grievance that needed institutional or national attention. Someone that truly ‘empathise[d] with the frustration” of the students would seek to ensure that they knew how best to carry out subsequent protests should there be the need to. To protect and serve is the motto after all.
Secondly, it’s interesting that the TTPS’ duty and capacity to enforce the nation’s laws would be reiterated. As if the mishandling of the two young men from the guild was a show of the TTPS’ prowess in dealing with breaches of the law...
There was undoubtedly a great display of power at the demonstration. Armed officers arriving to deal with unarmed non-violent protesters. Video footage of the encounter shows officers escorting a young man to a police vehicle with an officer’s hand around the young man’s neck, while this happens another officer walks towards and seemingly shoves him to the ground. A few feet away, another ghastly scene, another young man lay on the ground with multiple officers on top of him. One officer, in particular, placed his knee on the back of the young man’s neck despite his being already stationary making no attempt to resist arrest.
So, where’s the other side of the coin? Where’s the display of responsibility to accompany the grand show of power? Where’s the media statement detailing the protocol that officers are to follow when dealing with non-violent, unarmed protesters? Will a statement be made denouncing the behaviour of the officers? If not, will one be made admonishing them for their clearly violent handling of the students? Will the officers involved be held accountable in any way form or fashion? And lastly, to the officers that did not participate in the utterly reprehensible behaviour, please note that your inaction isn’t praiseworthy, as you watched while the abuse of power took place.
I’m not condemning the arrests as I currently don’t know which laws (if any) were broken to warrant them. What I am condemning, however, is the violent and degrading way in which they were carried out. I am condemning the seemingly one-sided approach the COP has taken in responding to the incident.
The COP was right in warning the citizens to be lawful. I sincerely hope the same is expected of the officers under his charge. And if it is proven that they acted unlawfully, I trust that the TTPS and PCA are “duty bound and prepared to enforce” the necessary disciplinary actions.
Jon Hubert Bristol, Arima