Protesters who were detained during Tuesday's “pushback” protest in which a number of people gathered to speak out against forced vaccinations, safe zones and restrictions in the public health ordinances complained of police brutality while in custody yesterday.
A total of 29 people – 14 of whom were detained in St Clair Police Station and 15 in Woodbrook police station – were charged with breaching public health ordinances, specifically gathering in groups of more than ten.
Activists Umar Abdullah of the First Wave Movement and Gary Aboud of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea were among those arrested on Tuesday.
Police sources said while there were reports of resisting arrest there were none of any physical altercations. They said any complaints of brutality should be addressed with the Police Complaints Authority.
One protester, 25-year-old Dominic Augustine, claims he was manhandled, beaten and treated like a common criminal by police officers after they detained him. He said while he was being detained, he asked why he was being so treated, but no one gave him an answer.
“They just grabbed me and threw me in the bus,” Augustine said. “While I was inside the bus I asked what my offence was and they still wouldn’t give me an answer. I tried to get out of the bus – but that probably wasn’t something that I should have done.”
He said an officer slapped him several times and punched him in his solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. He slumped down on the seat gasping for air and didn’t move until they reached the Woodbrook police station.
During processing he was made to wear a mask because he had lost his during the scuffle. He complained that the mask restricted his breathing and asked for leniency about wearing it, but his requests were met with more brutality.
“I need air to breathe like any basic mammal,” he said. “We cannot live in fear of the police simply because we want to breathe.”
“One officer told another officer to put me in a cell. They made me do the 'squat and cough' exercise and made me take off my laces and belt. Then they put me in the cell with a man who committed an offence.”
When he got out of the cell again officers questioned him but he responded that he had already given the information to another officer and told them to write the information down this time – something else he now thinks he should not have done.
“I saw four officers approach me and they hit me about my body, in my stomach and on my head,” Augustine alleged. “I fell to the ground and they told me to get back up. While I am doing this I had the mask above my mouth and my nose. I was hyperventilating – gasping for air which I was not getting because of the mask.”
Sandra Buckradee, a 69-year-old woman from Mt Hope, told Newsday she was manhandled by a female police officer and arrested because she spoke out against the way the police handled protesters while being detained. She said she saw a young man being roughed up by police, so she began admonishing them.
“I am a great-grandmother and I saw them abusing a young man,” she said. “I was standing by myself with a snow cone. When I saw what the officer did I told her that what she was doing was advantageous. The young man didn’t do anything and they were roughing him up.
"She asked me if I was in the protest and I said yes. She grabbed me. I got so confused that I held on to her because I didn’t want to fall, and the snow cone fell on her.”
She said two officers carted her off to the paddy wagon and threw her in.
“There were about 14 people there and it didn’t have any air conditioning. We were begging them to put on the air condition and they wouldn’t put it on.”
Her relatives, seeing a video which depicted her being taken into custody, eventually went to the Woodbrook police station and got her out, but she said the experience has left her traumatised.
“I couldn’t sleep. I went to sleep about 4 am on Wednesday. It was so unfair,” she said
Activist David Welch said he was dragged out of his car and thrown into a paddy wagon and taken to the Belmont Police Station, where he was held until his lawyers demanded he be placed with the other protesters.
“When I first got there, the officers thought I organised the entire thing. They were trying to get me to tell the crowd to disperse and leave the Savannah. I could not do that, because I didn’t bring all the people there.
"They threatened to arrest me at first when they arrested Umar Abdullah of the First Wave movement. I ran from them. I came back about an hour later and got into my vehicle. They walked up to me and they dragged me out of the vehicle and threw me into a police car.”
He said during the scuffle he unintentionally tore down the vest of one of the officers. He was taken to the Belmont police station, where the officer whose vest he tore wanted to press assault charges. While none of these charges were laid against him, he was still detained in the Belmont station.
Welch said his lawyers had to issue a pre-action protocol letter to have him transferred from Belmont to Woodbrook police station, where other protesters were being held.
'Not an anti-vaxx protest'
Welch said the protest was not an anti-vaxx protest. He said people gathered there because they were angry for a myriad of reasons, and wanted their voices heard.
“We are not against taking the vaccine,” Welch said. “We are against the forced taking of the vaccine.
"It is also a wide range of issues that people came out there for, not just the vaccination. It was poor governance, the tyrannical government and things like that.
"We found it disrespectful that the media painted it as an anti-vaxx protest, because it wasn’t.”
Bukradee claimed she went there to speak out against crime and restrictions on going to beaches.
“The prison officer got shot in front of his daughter and the police were there and people are making excuses for them. Pensioners are being raped. Groceries are expensive.
"This country is going through. That is why I went to the protest.
"If people want to take the vaccine or not, that is their choice.”
Augustine said he went to the protest to meet people.
“I wanted to meet like-minded people like myself who see the issues with Trinidad and Tobago. We can’t have water wasting every day in our neighbourhoods and you can’t have water for 50 years, while other countries have water 24/7.”
He said the mask mandate confined people. He added that a relative of his, who always wore a mask, complained of having trouble breathing shortly before he died of covid19. He believes the respiratory issues associated with covid19 had something to do with the mask-wearing.
The protest at the Savannah was the culmination of a joint protest between United National Congress activist Victor Roberts and Abdullah’s First Wave Movement, against "mandatory vaccination" and government's management of the covid19 pandemic.
Abdullah warned the government against mandating that people take the vaccine, saying it would lead the country down a road to dictatorship.
To date, covid19 vaccinations have not been made mandatory, nor has any motion on mandatory vaccination been laid or debated in Parliament.