Police officers, who reported at the Barakah Grounds on Friday morning to disperse a mass gathering of people, 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 police woman reportedly 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 on Friday, people began to gather outside the grounds owned by activist, broadcaster and media owner Inshan Ishmael. By 6.45 am, the gathering had grown to a massive one that became a major cause of concern for members of the public, as well as the police service.
Earlier this week, Inshan Ismael commenced a hamper distribution drive to assist the less fortunate in society during the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has left hundreds of people without jobs. This, as businesses—including bars and restaurants—have been forced to close under a public health ordinance, in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
On Monday, Ishmael posted on his Facebook wall that they needed “assistance to pack hampers at Barakah Grounds Chaguanas on Thursday April 16th, from 4pm”. He also had posted a cell number at which volunteers could contact him.
On Wednesday, Ishmael posted an update saying he was getting a huge number of calls from Trinidadians with Venezuelan friends who are in need of assistance.
He wrote: “While I would love to do something, Citizens of Trinidad are my first priority… I will, however, be looking to assist our Venezuelan friends within the next 10 days, God willing.”
Reports are that on Thursday night, Ishmael took to his Facebook again and posted that police officers went to the grounds some time before 10 pm, allegedly to 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. Ishmael wrote: “To the officers from E999 who came and tried to intimidate us, allyuh stink and dutty and PC (name called) who called allyuh to pressure us is a stinking Dog!!! All day we are packing hampers and these louse trying to set us up???”
On Friday, at about 8 am, Ishmael advised all gathered and those leaving their homes for the grounds about the guidelines with which they must comply.
“Please be advised that the following must be complied with if you are to enter our compound for a Hamper today!
1)SOCIAL DISTANCING OF MINIMUM 6 FT!
2)NO MORE THAN 3 PERSONS PER VEHICLE.
3) ALL INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN BY BARAKAH REPRESENTATIVES MUST BE FOLLOWED.
4) NO HAMPERS WILL BE GIVEN FOR FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO ARE NOT PRESENT.
5) ONE HAMPER PER FAMILY.
6) YOU CANNOT PICK AND CHOOSE, TAKE WHAT YOU GOT AND BE HAPPY.
7) EXIT IMMEDIATELY UPON RECEIVING ITEMS.”
According to reports, about one hour afterwards, a party of police officers arrived at the grounds and dispersed the large gathering. The officers also took Ishmael into custody and to the Chaguanas Police Station for questioning.
Guardian Media was told by concerned people who were still lurking around the grounds that they were praying for the best for Ishmael.
“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 did not want to give his name.
“The police come and run the people because it had people jamming up on people…no masks…no social distancing… So yeah, 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 police woman also lamented the gathering.
“People don’t understand what is going on in the country. Not until they get sick and their new born babies get sick and they need a respirator that they will have to choose if to save their life, or the baby life or their parents lives who they dragging out here too. Then they will learn and know how serious this coronavirus is,” she told Guardian Media. “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.”
Before Guardian Media left Barakah Grounds at about 10 am on Friday, associates of Ishmael said they would not be making any comments or statements to any media house on what took place with respect to the large gathering.