COMMISSIONER OF POLICE GARY GRIFFITH, in warning people against making racist, divisive, or possibly seditious remarks on social media, was careful to clarify his own remarks in calling criminal elements “cockroaches.”
At the weekly press conference at the Police Administration Building in Port of Spain, Griffith clarified that when he referred to criminals as cockroaches he was in no way singling out any race, class, or creed of people.
He said if people want to target an enemy, that enemy should be criminal elements who harm innocent, law-abiding TT citizens.
“If you have a daughter and she is raped, wouldn’t you want to call them a cockroach? If your wife is killed, what would you refer to that killer as? If you have a son who is being lured by people into drugs and joining gangs, what do you refer to them as?”
He said he had no control over who in turn uses the word to refer to people, but asked that the country not be fooled by people using racial lines as a means of making themselves relevant.
“So let me clarify, as it refers to me referring to criminals as cockroaches, and people are offended by this, I am taking the opportunity to apologise – to the cockroaches. The fact of the matter is that a cockroach would not deliberately try to harm anyone, but these individuals do.”
Months after the commissioner made a statement comparing criminals to cockroaches, an employee and close relative to the owner of Ramsaran's, a long-standing beverage company used the same term in a Facebook post. As a result the employee was fired, but the backlash from the comments led to several groceries and people boycotting the company’s products.
Griffith warned that many of the recent statements being made against people of different races, ethnicities and political affiliations were in fact illegal, and said police are investigating several posts which could be deemed racist, seditious or acts of harassment.
“We have seen a high degree of hate, racism, jealousy, bitterness and sowing division,” Griffith said. “Many of the statements being made are actually breaking the law. More so, this division, hatred, bitterness, will cause confrontation and lead to violence. I am taking this opportunity as Commissioner of Police to ask everyone to tone it down.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police Jayson Forde clarified to people feeling that they have a democratic right to speak as they feel on social media platforms that their right to freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution – but it is not absolute.
Forde explained that sedition is an intention to raise discontent or dissatisfaction to engender feelings of ill will or hostility between one or one section of the community and any other section.
He added that harassment could be seen as alarming a person or causing that person distress by engaging a course of action or conduct such as making contact by gesture, directly, verbally, by telephone or by computer, or acting in any other way that would reasonably cause a person to be alarmed or distressed.
“Many of these posts more than qualify. Once we find evidence to support it, you can be charged for sedition, harassment or threat that could lead to assault.
"You have to have responsible behaviour. We have a responsibility to educate you so you would desist, but if you continue we will prosecute you,” Forde said.