Police were forced to disperse a large crowd of people gathered at the Barakah Grounds in Chaguanas yesterday, to get hampers distributed by a team under the guidance of well-known media owner Inshan Ishmael.
Ishmael was also taken by police for questioning on the actions of his team that may have led to a breach of social distancing policies. He was eventually released without charge.
The officers who reported to the scene expressed great concern and disappointment to see people showing up at the grounds with their newborn babies in their arms and accompanied by their elderly loved ones.
One policewoman shouted: “You all are crazy to come out with your newborn baby and your mother and father, uncle and aunty in this great health risk it having here now. Go back to your homes! Carry your baby and old people back home now!”
Guardian Media was told that from as early as 3 am yesterday, people began to gather outside the grounds owned by Ishmael.
By 6.45 am the gathering had grown into a massive crowd.
Ishmael commenced on a hamper distribution drive earlier this week to assist the less fortunate in society during the current COVID-19 challenge that has left hundreds of people without jobs as businesses, including bars and restaurants have been forced closed under a public health ordinance in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
On Monday, Ishmael posted on his Facebook page that they needed “assistance to pack hampers at Barakah Grounds, Chaguanas on Thursday April 16, from 4pm.”
He also posted a cell number for volunteers to contact him.
On Wednesday, Ishmael posted an update saying that he was getting a huge number of calls from Trinidadians who had Venezuelan friends who were in need of assistance.
He wrote, “While I would love to do something. Citizens of Trinidad are my first priority…I will be however looking to assist our Venezuelan friends within the next 10 days God willing.”
On Thursday night, Ishmael posted that police officers went to the grounds sometime before 10 pm to allegedly intimidate volunteers who were packing hampers.
Ishmael said he was told by officers of the E999 that they were having a party at Barakah Grounds.
On Friday, at about 8 am, Ishmael advised all gathered and those leaving their homes for the grounds, that the State’s guidelines must be complied with.
His advice included social distancing of a minimum of six feet and no more than three people per vehicle.
About one hour later, a party of police officers arrived at the grounds and dispersed the large gathering.
The officers also took Ishmael into custody at the Chaguanas Police Station for questioning.
Guardian Media spoke to some people at the grounds who expressed concern.
“The police come and take him down but we hope they don’t charge him with anything because is help he helping the people by organising food hampers. Plenty people out here have little or nothing to eat. I waiting and hoping to see when he comes back,” said one man who asked to remain anonymous.
“The police come and run the people because it had people jamming up on people…no masks…no social distancing so yea the police must intervene but is all for a good but the people must understand and do what they have to do and not put lives at risk and people health at risk,” the man added.
A policewoman also lamented about the gathering, “People don’t understand what is going on in the country. Not until they get sick and their newborn babies get sick and they need a respirator that they will have to choose if to save their life, or the baby’s life or their parents’ lives who they dragging out here too then they will learn and know how serious this coronavirus is. People taking things for a joke and coming out here to crowd up the place and rub up on other people not knowing who sick and who not. This thing is no joke and people have to wake up and get serious.”