Protest forces T&T to deal with at-risk youth

Protest forces T&T to deal with at-risk youth

Prime minister warns against gun battles with police

Friday, July 03, 2020

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Trinidad and Tobago Government announced Thursday the establishment of a National Recovery Programme (NRP) as it appealed to young people to put down their guns and seek to improve their lives.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley told a news conference that the recent acts of violence in the capital and its environs following the police killings of three men last weekend, highlighted the need for various programmes to be implemented to help at-risk youth in various communities in the country.

“I have no doubt that some of the people involved [in the protests] were born at that time,” Rowley said, recalling that in 2004 the then Government had sought to introduce such a pilot project in the Morvant Laventille area but was forced to shelve it after the Opposition criticised it and he was also labelled a racist.

He said soon after coming into office, his Administration initiated a programme, which to date had resulted in TT$30 million being spent on getting young people before they are lost to the criminal elements.

“I am here to initiate, or should I say reinitiate, today is the establishment by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago of a community recovery programme aimed specifically at these problem areas which give birth and sustenance to the lawlessness, hurt, the anger, the discrimination and all the negatives that are associated with what some people glibly [call] hot spots.

“Most people in those areas have the same ambition, require the same service, require peace and prosperity, so hot spots…is not how we will approach this, we will approach it as special areas requiring special attention.”

Rowley said that among the priorities will be to draw on the national intellect and experience and that Cabinet Thursday approved the establishment of the NRP “led by a team of persons whose skills will allow that programme to determine the action plans for these areas”.

Rowley said that his Administration would not allow Trinidad and Tobago to descend into what had transpired in an un-named Caribbean country, saying “we will work to bring about an alternative.

“I will not be dissuaded to change course from this by any person who believes that this has to do with race, religion, or geography”.

Rowley, who is also chair of the National Security Council, told reporters that he was saddened by the deaths of the five people, including a pregnant woman over the past few days, but cautioned that there is a difference between protesting and seeking revenge.

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has said that 43 people have been killed, in incidents involving the police, so far this year, and Rowley urged the country to await the outcome of the investigations by the PCA before jumping to any conclusion.

The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) Tuesday said that they had foiled a “well-orchestrated plan to destabilise the country” and had arrested 72 people.

The protesters had blocked roads, including the highways in and out of the capital, fired gunshots, and demanded that the officers involved in the deaths of Joel Jacob, Noel Diamond, and Israel Clinton in Morvant along the east-west corridor on Saturday be brought to justice. Witnesses say at least one of the men had his hands in the air in surrender when they were shot.

The police shootings came one day after an officer, Allen Moseley, 32, of the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) was shot dead in Morvant. Police Commissioner Gary Griffith has denied any link between the murder of the police officer and the deaths of the three men.

Rowley said, in the case involving the killing of the three men, he was informed that the police had “met these young people and there were reasons to resort to the use of force and the force resulted in their deaths, and before one of the officers was out there and he encountered persons who shot at him resulting in his death.

“In this situation to call for immediate action with the evidence is to call for revenge as against justice. I believe that all those persons who are calling for justice are completely correct and I find common cause with them in that, those who are demanding revenge I warn against that approach.” Rowley said.

He told reporters that as prime minister and chair of the National Security Council “the evidence surrounding all of this will be gathered and that the evidence will determine who was responsible to be held accountable, and if the process, as is spelt out in law, as the evidence is collected, does not result in the clear distinction or determination of who is responsible then the next step of the process is anticipated and that is a full coroner's inquest…”

Rowley said that the protest violence has shown that there are many young people in the society who have obtained firearms either for their own protection from other persons, including criminals.

“That being so, the options available to the national community, a community which is law abiding…would then see police officers requiring to be armed. So we have armed citizens…and armed police officers who are required to suppress that criminality to disarm those persons… at the risk of their own lives.

“So when those two situations come together as is commonplace in Trinidad and Tobago armed civilians encountering armed police officers it is not unexpected that there will be outcomes of this nature.

“Today I am appealing to the young people of this country and saying to them…when you take up arms for whatever reason, you are automatically putting yourselves in harm's way with respect to law enforcement because the only response that the State will provide in that situation on that moment is an armed contingent.

“It is not reasonable to assume that with the level of armed civilians in this country that the response would be unarmed police officers. I think it is quite understood that the police officers would be armed,” he said, noting however that the police officers have to “respond within the law”.

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