The father of two young boys who were caught in the melee when police deployed tear gas against a crowd of protesters at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, on Sunday is angry and insisting there was no need for the officers to use such force.
However, Casper Daniel admitted yesterday he was trying to get away from the scene with his boys after realising things were escalating following the official event. Unfortunately, he said the windy conditions saw the chemicals still blowing towards his group.
He said, “We saw what was taking place so we decided to cross the road and went along TGIF side there because it was away from commotion.”
Shortly after police deployed tear gas to disperse a crowd of protesters, the two young boys were captured on video getting their eyes flushed out with water by an adult. Tear gas, a collection of chemicals, is known to cause eye, skin and respiratory irritation.
The video recording fuelled claims of abuse of power by police, an allegation Daniel was in agreement with yesterday.
“It was excessive force used on the population when it didn’t have to be that way,” Daniel told Guardian Media.
Daniel confirmed he, his wife and two sons were participating in a prayer march led by the head of the First Wave Movement, Umar Abdullah.
But Daniel said he did not expect things to escalate the way they did.
“The police, in their riot gear, formed a line and they started heading towards the crowd and the cars and things that were there and while progressing towards the cars, they start telling people they have to move. They then formed a line from the opposite direction, so as fast as they moved forward the crowd will move back just not to have friction between the police and civilians.”
Daniel said on seeing the commotion, he and his family separated from the crowd but the police discharged the tear gas and the distance between them quickly shortened.
“When the breeze blow, the smoke actually reach by where we were, so they couldn’t breathe and couldn’t see so they started panicking. We had to pick them up and run down the road and try to flag down cars to see if we could get water to help wash out their eyes. Luckily, the boys had no damage to their eye sight, they just had problems breathing for a while, they couldn’t see so we had to comfort them, lift them up and cuddle and treat them like a baby.”
While traumatised on Sunday, the boys were good enough to attend online classes yesterday.
The Push Back protest was aimed at highlighting concerns over Government’s vaccination policy for public servant and its handling of COVID-19. Senior officers claimed the crowd became unruly, forcing them to take action. A total of 12 people were detained during the protest but up to yesterday only one of them had been charged.
Yesterday, however, acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob again defended the officers’ actions on the T&T Police Service’s Beyond the Tape programme on TV6. Reiterating that the march was illegal, since the organisers did not have permission from him to conduct the activity, Jacob said the Guard and Emergency Branch head reported to him that the officers gave the protesters numerous warnings to disburse after the activity had ended before firing the tear gas. He denied the officers acted in a high-handed manner.
“The police followed our use of force policy as required, they use all the expression, they made all the efforts to disperse the crowds and even though the crowds had dispersed at some point, a core group of persons insisted that they were not moving and the officers did what was required according to our standard operational procedures and they are properly trained and they followed all the training and methods that they have learned in order to deal with the crowd control and in those particular circumstances.”
He also indicated that the officers operated well within the TTPS’ use of force policy and did not need his permission to deploy the tear gas, as had been suggested by certain segment of the public yesterday.
Jacob also scoffed at the suggestion that the police’s action was politically sanctioned.
“I’m stunned, you realise I am staying a while to respond because I just cannot understand where that is coming from. Where is the politics in it where persons chose to find some cracks within the law and try to do an illegal activities and police went abut taking the relevant action, what is political in relation to that? Probably they operationalise or understand political differently to the conventional understanding.”
Jacob and programme host, SORT head Roger Alexander, also suggested that the issue of children being taken to such protect actions should also be looked at by the Children’s Authority and the TTPS’ Child Protection Unit.
However, the use of tear gas raised questions of different strokes for different folks yesterday from former top cop Gary Griffith, who said on his watch, tear gas would not have been deployed.
Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew yesterday, he said, “How is it when you had a situation just a week ago with the Beetham residents when they were actually doing something that would have inconvenienced over 100,000 people, there was no need for tear gas, you have to be very careful. It is not a straight case of saying you broke the law…I as a police commissioner would have been there, you have to be on the ground to make a decision like that.”