Griffith criticises use of tear gas against protesters

Former police commissioner Gary Griffith. -
Former police commissioner Gary Griffith. -

FORMER commissioner of police (CoP) Gary Griffith lamented the use of tear gas by the police on peaceful protesters at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, on Sunday.

He was speaking to television host Jason "JW" Williams on the Morning Brew on CNC3 on Monday.

After marchers had ignored orders to disperse, the police arrested several people, including activist Umar Abdullah, and then deployed tear gas cannisters.

Griffith cautioned about this, speaking about the running of the police service and whether he would reapply to be CoP under a new Police Service Commission (PSC.)

Asked how to curb criminal gangs, Griffith said the public's trust and confidence in the police rose under his watch from 14 to 44 per cent, helping greatly to help cut crime.

"More information came in, we were working together, and it (TTPS) was able to go after the real criminal elements.

"Persons were against my aggressive approach, but there was a time this country required this. There is still that time."

But he also warned that the police must be very careful how they deal with the public, as he then referred to Sunday's events at the savannah.

"I'm not here to cast aspersions, whether pro-vaccination or not.

"As CoP, in my three years, I fully understood the rights of persons to protest. That is your right. What I said is for you to do that you need to apply to the CoP. I will ensure that you can protest.

"Even if they (police) did not get that request, it means obviously there was a breakdown in communication, but even having done that we need to be very careful.

"One of the policies I put in place is that any time we have to use that kind of force on citizens, it must come from the office of the CoP, and there's a reason for that.

"Suppose the head of the GEB (Guard and Emergency Branch) decides, 'Ok, it is time to tear-gas.' Ok, that is his judgement call. But suppose you go to Abu Bakr's funeral, where there were two times more persons (than permitted under the covid19 regulations) at that funeral, and the head of the Inter Agency Task Force was there and he said, 'I don't think we should tear-gas.'

"That's where you'll get persons stating, 'There is not a level playing field. How it is we could do this, but at Abu Bakr's funeral, where there were two times more persons, the acting CoP said, 'I made a judgement call and we decided not to tear-gas'?"

He said no tear gas was used last week when Beetham residents burned debris to protest over a sewage leak, but at risk to 100,000 drivers. Nor was used tear gas used against big crowds in the recent Tobago House of Assembly elections.

"So you have to be careful is not a straight case of saying. 'You broke the law, watch it!'

"Had I been CoP, had I been there, I would have been on the ground (last Sunday)."

He recalled his presence as CoP at Black Lives Matter protests and Candle Light Movement vigils.

"You have to be on the ground to make a decision like that."

Griffith said if he had been CoP, the police would not have used tear gas on Sunday, saying, "I would not have done it."

He said very careful decision-making was needed in such situations.

"This is not just about persons standing in front of debris and you know the individuals. We are speaking about women, children. Tear gas can actually get into person's vehicles, the media being affected.

"This is where it comes to leadership and making a judgement call based on the situation.

"You have to use minimum force. If not, we certainly don't want TT to become a Tiananmen Square."

(Hundreds were killed in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in China's suppression of student/civilian pro-democracy protests from April 15-June 4, 1989.)

The last time the TTPS used tear gas was in July 2020 against 20-plus protesters demonstrating in Port of Spain against the police killing of three men in Laventille just after they were detained. At that time, Griffith was CoP.

Asked by Williams whether he would reapply to be CoP under the new selection system and new PSC, Griffith said he will consider how best to serve his country. He said he did not need the job and so has been able to be independent.

Griffith said one media house's survey found 60 per cent of respondents saying he should vie to become prime minister, 30 per cent saying CoP, and ten per cent saying he should sell doubles.


"Griffith criticises use of tear gas against protesters"

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