A uniformed police officer videotaping a demonstration in support of the US-based Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement had to beat a hasty retreat when jeered by otherwise peaceful protesters at Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Monday. He sent back a colleague to ask protesters for his cap, prompting one woman to quip, “So black lives don’t matter but black caps do?”
Earlier, the police had irked the crowd by way of an announcement on a megaphone, “You are breaching the ‘Covid Act’ and making this into a riot.”
“Riot?” replied several protesters, aghast at the claim. “Comply with social distancing. Let us keep this peaceful,” the officer ordered.
Activist Adeola Young told Newsday, “That’s an attempt to intimidate the crowd. No one’s intention here is to riot. It is just a symbol of solidarity and people came of their own accord.
“Nobody here is armed. This show of force by the police is unnecessary.”
She said the protest had got all approvals through the right channels, and hoped the day would not end in police brutality.
The crowd then chanted, “No peace, no justice!” They then knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate the time for which George Floyd was asphyxiated by a police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck, ignoring the pleas of Floyd and of onlookers.
New National Vision head Fuad Abu Bakr was overheard talking loudly on the phone to one “Mr Griffith” whom he invited to attend. Police Commissioner Gary Griffith arrived on the scene 20 minutes later.
He told reporters he had willingly given the nod for the protest.
“Because of the situation with George Floyd, people are hurting and they have the right to protest. In this country, we the police are not the enemy but are in support to know that black lives matter.” He said he was proud of TT's democratic system and his officers' professionalism. He lamented profiling by police globally.
Griffith went among the protesters whom he addressed with activist/musician Muhammad Muwakil’s megaphone.
“The TTPS is not here to cause problems but to stand in solidarity with you. I’m here to support you.”
A woman shouted, "No to racist police!” Muwakil retorted, “I believe he is sincere. Let’s work with that.”
One young man posed a query to Griffith, saying, “Why were we met with guns and police horses? We had no plans to riot.”
Muwakil then saw and heard a policeman with a video camera shouting, “Remove yourself!” Protesters, including Abu Bakr and activist Shabaka Kambon, closed in on the officer, who made his way to Griffith and several colleagues.
One protester, Denise Demming, told Newsday, “The police are not attempting to de-escalate, but are harassing people who are peacefully demonstrating and who don’t want to be filmed. It’s an example of the autocracy of the police when they feel they have power. This crowd is young people expressing themselves on an issue that is important to this country.”
Muwakil then vowed to campaign to remove the Christopher Columbus statue in Port of Spain as an allegedly racist symbol.
Griffith later told Newsday his officers toil daily to save black lives and he hoped the public values the officers' black lives.
Also present were artist Rubadiri Victor, architect Geoffrey MacLean, activist Gary Aboud and Spiritual Baptist leader Yvette Adams.