Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Noble: Does chanting constitute ‘rioting’? How Griffith and TTPS failed BLM protesters

Noble: Does chanting constitute ‘rioting’? How Griffith and TTPS failed BLM protesters

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin.

We can ignore what we faced on 8 June in the Queen’s Park Savannah or face it and propose to change it.

Late that evening, a video surfaced of a police officer on a bullhorn informing the protestors that their gathering and chanting constituted a ‘riot’ and a breach of the Public Health Ordinance. That advice was not addressed to any specific person, although later the police commissioner informed that permission was given to have not more than four (!) persons.

Photo: US ambassador Joseph Mondello talks to protesters during a black lives matter demonstration at the Queen’s Park Savannah on 8 June 2020.

I wonder whether the unions are aware that by chanting, they are rioting? Maybe the police meant ‘an unlawful assembly’?

If the commissioner gave permission, how did it become ‘unlawful’? Where was the use of force or violence against persons or property? At the time, the peaceful young people were well inside of the Savannah and were obeying the social distancing rules.

Why did the first responding police officer not seek to find the organiser? This protest gathering was advertised widely on social media, a haunt of the young and where the police frequent. Why did the police not withdraw the permission on seeing the advertisements?

It is interesting that the US Embassy security could locate the organiser and consider the gathering safe enough for their ambassador to stroll over—yet our police did not appear to know the identity of the leaders.

A political homeless man, seeking to rabble rouse what was essentially a middle-income group, was being ignored. Still, the police found themselves in the middle of the crowd. Then came infamous cap snatching incident which exposes who we are.

Photo: A police officer reacts after being stripped of his cap during a black lives matter protest at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on 8 June 2020.

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith would have us believe that he had the police with heavy arms stand down. Really? This tells a lot about his mindset.

What made this incident different from the October 2018 encounter with The UWI young people when the police turned up with rifles and arrested two students? As Minister of National Security Stuart Young dryly noted then: “The UWI has private security.”

In an unbelievable turn of events, the US Embassy tweeted, in real time, a photograph of the US Ambassador civilly ‘inspecting the troops’. Very unlike the February 1969 treatment of Canada’s Governor-General Mr Roland Michener by protesting UWI students. Then, the protesting students locked and refused to open the gates despite pleas by Sir Solomon Hochoy, our governor-general.

These protesters were civil, polite, and welcoming. This year’s protest is not the first time that locals have engaged with an overseas fight since the February 1969 lock out was triggered by the fate of the Sir George Williams University students in Canada.

Our police commissioner then proceeded to incredibly insult an illustrious black Belmont family, with at least three generations of service to this nation, by advising how their son should have been named. This irascible ‘whose name will never be named again’ chooses to disrespect a family who has served and serves us, as a country, publicly.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) poses with a protester during a black lives matter event at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on 8 June 2020.

What do we expect other young people to think? What is the sense of serving quietly? Of doing things ‘by the book’?

Their son, who allegedly snatched the cap of the police officer, found words to describe what his need is. We treated that admission as though it was an excuse.

But he is naming his problem since without a name we cannot deal with it. He is forcing us, as a nation, to have a conversation which we did not have the last time he had a publicly reported episode. We should now have it.

Mental illness is a reality, affecting many families. People still think it is a failing on the part of parents and this makes it difficult to talk about. We do not want to talk about ‘our minds’ since we believe this is about us and we get anxious. The three-pound mass is not different from our leg, so why the stigma?

We need to talk about our mental health issues the same way we do with our physical issues. Why do we use these issues to define who someone is? This is not who the person is, this is something the person is suffering from. Because one thing goes wrong in our brain, we are going to throw out the whole person?

One thing does not mean everything. Most people with  a bipolar challenge can get treatment successfully.

Photo: Former attorney general Anthony Smart.

Reading ‘A Brilliant Madness’ (Duke and Hochman, 1992) is an excellent start. Recognising that Abe Lincoln, Mariah Carey, Carrie Fisher, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ernest Hemingway all had the disorder.

In fact, Jimi Hendrix wrote a song ‘Manic Depression’ in which he describes his mood swings. The next time we talk about Winston Churchill, let us remember he was also one.

We should not ignore the triggers of this week and allow the narrative to be changed. Ian Smart, a very smart young man with a master’s degree in electrical engineering, is through his company, Green Energy, working on problems that will help save our nation. Stop the stigmatising. It could be deadly.

Mr Muhammed Mukawil, one of the organisers, is reported as condemning the action of Mr Smart. But as Mr Smart correctly points out, plainclothes police could have quietly achieved the same end, but their action appears to be a second attempt to intimidate in one evening.

What a mess. Somebody needs to let Mr Mukawil know that protests are, by their very nature, messy and chaotic.

Words have consequences.

Photo: Iconic rock star Jimi Hendrix described his own battle with mood swings in ‘Manic Depression’.

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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