SAN Fernando mayor Junia Regrello will be using the Mayor’s Fund to pay the $1,000 fines of six street dwellers who were charged for not wearing masks.
On Saturday San Fernando police charged the men at Harris Promenade and Mucurapo Street.
But after the news broke on social media, several people expressed their displeasure with the decision, saying the police are only targeting “poor people.”
Others tried to get the names of the men to help pay.
But on Monday, Regrello said he will pay the fees, making it clear it was a “one-time deal.”
He added that the way the media wrote stories about the incident had a part to play in the public’s negative feedback.
He said some of the men who were charged regularly “harass passers-by, citizens and children,” and continually refuse to make use of the city’s homeless shelter. He said they are not homeless but simply choose to live on the streets.
Approximately 22 people currently use the shelter –San Fernando Centre for Displaced Persons – at King's Wharf.
“I think it is unfair to ask the police to rescind on the charge because the law is the law and they have to do their work. This is a sensitive matter. But the law is the law, and they have to adhere to the law,” Regrello said.
One of the charging officers, Senior Supt Yusuf Gaffar, reiterated the men are not homeless, saying, “If you check the ticket, you will see that each one of them have addresses.”
When Newsday spoke to one of the charged men – 52-year-old Robert Kato – before speaking to the mayor, Kato was distraught and said he had no idea where he was going to get the money from.
“I don’t even have a proper pants, where I getting $1,000?” he asked.
He said no one had given him face masks and was wearing a purple bandana over his nose and mouth.
ASP Ali Mohammed referred to one of the men – Anthony “Animal” Duncan, who has been on the streets for years.
“Animal lives in Manahambre. He frequents his home, but his demeanour...he leaves home and comes on the street as pleased.”
He was also recently arrested for throwing stones at municipal police and is currently out on bail.
Regrello said all the men who were charged are mentally stable and “sensible enough to put a mask around their nose and their mouth as they are required to.”
“These men do not want to be in a disciplined, controlled environment. And they are constantly being fed at the bandstand and so they congregate there and sometimes, some of them are almost like a nuisance.”
Gaffar said masks had been given to all of the men charged.
Asked how often masks are distributed to the street dwellers, ASP Andrew John said, “Well, we depend on private and corporate citizens to give us masks and we distribute it."
Mohammed added, “Since Animal and them have been charged, a number of these so-called street dwellers have been wearing their masks. A lot of people have come to us and said they are glad they could walk by the promenade now without these people coughing and spitting everywhere.”
Regrello said the media’s stories have been “imbalanced,” adding that the police should have been allowed to give their side of the story.
“These people choose to live like this. We have made every effort to assist these people."
He noted, though, that it will be a challenge to enforce the law to street dwellers who may not be mentally stable – none of whom were charged
The mayor and the police gave out a number of face masks to members of the public – mostly street dwellers – on Monday morning.