Griffith: Trinidad and Tobago cops don't target blacks

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith. -
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith. -

POLICE are not targeting anyone based on their race or geographical location, said Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.

He was speaking Thursday at a weekly police media briefing at the Police Administration building and responding to comparisons of local police behaviour with the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, US. That killing has sparked global outrage and protests in various countries including TT.

Griffith pointed out that New National Vision political leader Abu Bakr tried to compare the Minneapolis incident with "cop killer" Michael Thomas, who was shot dead by police last year.

He said it was "unbelievable" that some are trying to compare Floyd's killing with police killing (Thomas) who "blew away the head" of one of his police officers on Christmas Eve night and left a wife, a mother, a father, a child in grief on Christmas Day, and was later found with the gun he stole from the officer.

"That is chalk and cheese."

Former Emancipation Support Committee Khafra Kambon also spoke on the Minneapolis issue to the media and said African voices in TT were being silenced. He also said when someone is killed by police from an area like Beetham or Sea Lots it is assumed they were "up to no good" and there is no call for an investigation, compared to if someone from another area is killed by police.

Asked about his claims, Griffith replied that people were using the situation to make themselves relevant and challenged Kambon to bring any data to show where someone fired on police officers and the police acted in a different manner because of where the person was from or their colour.

"So regardless of what part of the country you are in, regardless of whether you are white, black, green, yellow, if you have a firearm and you intend to shoot at police officers, the police would be left with no choice under the minimum use of force policy to act."

He added: "We are not shooting back at anyone because of their colour; we are shooting back at them because they are criminals trying to kill police officers. That is what this is about.

"This is not about black and white, this is about common sense, this is about good versus evil. And we are the good ones, we are the ones that are trying. And if it is that we confront persons who have killed 538 black lives that matter last year, we are the heroes.

"We are the ones going out to protect black lives out there. All lives matter, and that is what we are doing."

He added that he has conducted raids in Valsayn, Westmoorings and Glencoe and many other places.

"Wherever the crime is we will go and enforce the law."

Kambon also said that Griffith's language and demeanour, including his "one shot one kill" policy, incited killing.

Griffith said that Kambon "would not know the difference between a bullet and a baton" as he is untrained. He explained that if anyone who has a firearm it be must ensured that the opponent is neutralised.

"He doesn't understand that, and maybe he doesn't want to. But I feel sorry for him. I know that he has good intentions. But my job is to educate those who do not understand. But I will defend my police officers to the hilt."

Griffith said he understood Abu Bakr and Kambon's concern but TT does not have the same situation as the US. He added the real comparison is those criminals killing unarmed young men in cold blood and those are black lives that matter.

"The same bitterness and the anger that many of us have by the rightful concern as it concerns Black Lives Matter, it should indeed be done here, but let us target at the right persons, not the TT police service. We are not the enemy.

"I have 10,000-odd police officers and guess what? None of them are white. So just by that alone let us take stock and understand that just as Black Lives Matter for every citizen in this country and all lives matter for the police service, my 10,000 police officers, those black lives matter to me as well."

He added that officers were being trained in minimum use of force, customer service training protocols, verbal persuasion, body cameras, and minimum use of force tools like pepper spray and Tasers.

"(These) ensure that the only time a police officer will use a firearm is when it is he is left with no other choice."

He said the police service recognised the demographics of the service.

"And hence our emphasis treats not with race and racial profiling but with the use of force in the conduct of our duties."

He pointed out last year more than 500 people were killed in TT.

"What is ironic is that what happened in Minneapolis goes in line with what I have been saying just a few weeks ago. I stated, and was heavily opposed by a few, that if a police officer is charged with a violent crime – be it murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery – when I stated that officers should be fired immediately and not wait that their court cases to be completed."

He stressed that any police officer is expected to be more disciplined and accountable and are held to a higher standard than the average citizen.

Asked about the use of body cameras during police shootings, Griffith said police did have body cameras but when it comes to a firefight and three to five seconds maximum, it would be difficult to turn on a body camera and place it to see who shot first.


"Griffith: Trinidad and Tobago cops don’t target blacks"

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