HUNDREDS of women, girls, men and boys marched around the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain declaring "Enough is enough," as they demanded action by those in authority to deal with crime, especially violent crimes against women and children.
The march came nine days after 22-year-old court clerk Andrea Bharatt was kidnapped and three days after her decomposing body was found callously dumped down a precipice in the Heights of Aripo in east Trinidad.
The marchers called on politicians to change the law to enable women to protect themselves. Carrying home-made placards, men, women and children marched to the chants of: “We want justice,” “No bail for rapists,” and, “No bail for kidnappers.”
Co-organiser Dimitri Chote said there are three things that should be done: legalise the use of non-lethal weapons; regulate PH (private-hire) taxi drivers; and make the Sexual Offenders Registry public.
He said non-lethal weapons such as pepper sprays and Tasers will give women and young girls a fighting chance when confronted by male predators.
Regulating PH drivers will ensure the mainly male drivers will be registered and could pave the way for such provisions as GPS tracking.
Making the registry public could provide potential life-saving information to society's women and the parents of the country's vulnerable children and teenagers.
Chote described the turnout as "amazing" and beyond his personal expectations. He said he wanted the anger and outrage over Bharatt's murder moved off social media and into tangible, physical action that could foster change.
'LET ME ACT'
Chote said he and fellow organiser Ishmael Tarouba were accused of being racially motivated to protest. “People were citing racial motivation and so on, which made me wonder, 'Why do this, if this is the kind of ignorance I am meeting?'
"We know there is no racial motivation behind this. This was just a terrible action done to somebody who didn’t deserve it and I had trouble sleeping at night so I said, 'Let me do something about this. Let me act.'”
Many protesters said they came out to make their voices heard and ask Government to do something about crime.
Sarah Benjamin-Paul, who marched with her husband, daughters and nieces, said she is fed up of the situation. “We have to think about the future of our girls. If nothing is done, it’s just going to continue getting worse and it’s just going to go downhill from here.
"We brought them out because at the end of the day, let people see future generations who can be victimised – they are potential victims. We don’t know what could happen to them a year or two from now," Benjamin-Paul said.
Also present was Venezuelan national Stefani Flores, who was violently assaulted last year. She called on Government to accelerate her case through the courts.
“I want to ask for a prompt trial for my aggressors, because the evidence is completed, so they (the State) don’t need anything else. Andrea can’t be here, Ashanti (Riley) can’t be here today, and I myself almost couldn’t be here today too. So this is my reason to be here today.
"I ask the government to accelerate the process in the courts because this kind of monsters have to pay for what they did. Mentally and emotionally it’s very difficult, but we have to be strong. I am sad and my heart is broken,” Flores said.
Chote and Tarouba said they plan to organise further protests and those who want to join can follow them on their Facebook pages.
LISTEN TO OUR CRIES
Feminist NGO Feminitt founder Ashlee Burnett said the protest had the potential to make a difference, but only if those in power listen. She said this is not the first protest that has happened even without an inciting incident such as brutal rape and murder.
“I’m here today to protest again, with the hope that those in power take heed and make priority the safety of women and girls and boys across Trinidad and Tobago. We need to have those systems changed, because right now women and girls, young women particularly and young boys and even myself, experience that terror, that fright.
"I know there are so many people here today who were unsure of how they’d get here and then how they’d get back because they’re not sure who they can trust and who’s driving in a taxi or a PH car.
"I’m hoping those in power can give us a plan, Vision 2030 is less than ten years away, so where is the national plan for public transport? We need immediate action from those in power, we need the plan now and we need to know what’s going to happen.”
A marcher who gave his name only as Shivan said he and his friends decided to support the march because, “Given the circumstances of the past week, we said it would be right that as citizens we come out to show support and see if our leaders would hear our voices. Time and time again we have been speaking and no one has been listening."
Another marcher, Kim, said: “Too many young women are missing, too many of our women are being raped and murdered, and nothing is being done about it. The Government needs to do something. Words are not enough any more. How can you have a sex offenders registry and not make it public? That making any sense?”
DO WHAT WE DO
Another marcher challenged all politicians to do what the average citizen does on a daily basis – take public transport. The marcher said all politicians should leave their sedans and SUVs at home and go into various communities throughout the country, especially at night, and take a ride in a PH car.
"Only then will they truly understand the terror our women go through every time they sit in a PH car or a taxi, only then will these politicians understand that a simple act of getting into a car to get transport could end in rape and murder. Leave your cars home and come to the taxi stand in Arima, in Barrackpore, in Diego Martin, in Couva, in Laventille...come and do what women and children have been doing day in and day out. Come and take a drop in a PH car or in a taxi, come in the night.
"Pretend you are not a politician, pretend you are a clerk in a store, or a packer in a grocery and you now leave work and you want to get home. Mr politician, Ms politician, come and see what we as ordinary women and girls have to go through just to get to school or work or home. Then, maybe then, you will understand that there is a need to change the laws," the woman said.
Another marcher, Roger, said he came out to protest because his wife, sisters and nieces are all in danger.
“I am hoping the authorities, the politicians – the leadership of the PNM and the UNC – would stop making a political football out of crime and realise they are responsible and get together to act. They must realise that they have to do something about crime. Stop playing the blame game.”
Yassar Baksh, who directed the chants of the marchers, said he was proud of the turnout.
“The truth is it takes only one person to make a difference. If we as individuals come together, one plus one makes two, eventually you make five, five and five makes ten and then you get to 100 and then to 1,000 – and that’s when you get our supposed leaders to listen. You have to be the change you want to see in society."