“[…] On the fateful day, the Guard and Emergency Branch not only moved the bodies but also picked up spent shells, wrecked the vehicle and left the scene bare—as if nothing happened there 15 minutes ago. It left the crime scene investigators with almost nothing to work with when they turned up.
“[…] The time has come for a proper examination and evaluation of our police service, which ironically was changed from police force some years ago…”
In the following letter to the editor, an anonymous contributor, John Doe, shares video of policeman throwing ‘object’ on ground after Morvant killings and suggests changes to improve the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS):
There is an old folk saying that goes like this: ‘what doh meet yuh eh pass yuh’. This saying can hold true today, judging from the comments and responses from some members of the public when there is a police shooting of so-called ‘bad boys’ in this country.
When a bad boy shoots someone, no one sees. But when the police shoot, everyone sees—including the woman who always seems to be wrapped in a towel bawling ‘allyuh too wicked’!
Allow me to address that nonsense. The reason why no one sees when bad boys kill is because they operate without a rule book or any sense of morality. If you are brave enough to point him or them out, then prepare to meet your maker.
However, better is expected of the police. This is why everyone sees when they shoot and expects them to be held to account.
This is why the murder of George Floyd resonated around the entire world—so much so that statues are coming down at a rate, police units in America are being defunded and the issue of social protection is being revisited along with police reform and demilitarising.
Trinidad and Tobago is a very unique place. You could kill 100 young men in Port of Spain and it would probably have zero effect on those who live further west, or south of the Caroni bridge.
Hence the reason why there are no national responses to such injustice here as we have seen in the US. ‘Dem bad boys look for dey ting’, ‘one shot one kill’, ‘well done to the police’ would be the retort—not realising that one day it might a child from the west or south of the Caroni bridge whose vehicle or house comes under police fire.
Would we then regret our failure to hold all police killings up for scrutiny?
On Saturday 18 July 2020, at around 9:30pm, I received a video via WhatsApp of another shooting in Tunapuna. As the person recording begins describing what I am looking at, there was the body of another young African male lying with the lower half of his body in a drain and the other half in the roadway, blood draining from his body as he took his last breath.
I could not help but notice that there were at least five police officers on the scene—armed to the teeth as usual. But what was more significant was that there was absolutely no attempt by to police to rush him to the hospital to at least try and save his life.
This was in total contrast to the police’s ‘noble’ attempt to rush individuals to the hospital when they had clearly already stopped breathing. Of course, those always end up DOA. Does nobody see the irony in this?
Just as George Floyd’s killing was seen by the world on social media, so too was the shooting and killing of three young men in Morvant by some members of the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB), who, we are told, were on a mission to find the murderer of a policeman.
There were over 40 police shootings in 2020 alone but this was the very first one we got to see ourselves.
In the first video, we saw a brown Tiida proceeding to the right of our screens and three police vehicles heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly we saw the Tiida come to a halt, as did the police vehicles. Officers dismounted with sub-machine guns drawn and advanced tactical style to engage the occupants of the Tiida.
We saw one occupant emerge from the front passenger seat with his hands above his head—a universal sign for surrender. The driver remains in the car but he too had his hands in the air.
We saw the one who came out of the vehicle moving back and forth (from the instructions, I guess). Then, we saw the back right glass window of the Tiida roll down and all hell broke loose! When the smoke cleared, all three men were dead.
Now, it was first reported (before the video surfaced) that officers approached the occupants of a brown Tiida with instructions, only for the occupants to engage the officers in a shootout.
The officers, fearing for their lives, returned fire and the rest was history. This, clearly, was not what happened.
Another video of the so-called shootout showed the way the officers handled the bodies of those men. They looked like garbage collectors from my neighbourhood, dragging garbage bags along the street. It was heart-breaking. Yet the police claim they could not understand the anger of the residents.
In yet another video of the same fatal incident, a red arrow was installed to highlight something that I had to watch several times before I could believe what I was seeing.
An officer was shifting around to the back-left side of the Tiida, as his garbage-disposing colleagues in action. Then, all of a sudden, he dips into the top of his bulletproof vest with his right hand, retrieves a black object, and in one motion, threw it to his left. One could actually see the object hit the wall.
The police may argue that we cannot be sure about what the object was. But by now, we are aware of allegations that special units move around with what is referred to as ‘throw-down weapons’ for the purposes of ‘planting’ evidence.
There are so many things worth review from this episode.
Because of the closeness of the GEB officers to the murdered officer, should they have been the unit deployed to search for his killer? Could we expect clear, rational judgment from them?
If one man, allegedly, points a weapon why were his two colleagues—who had their hands raised and posed absolutely no threat—also shot dead?
Was it ‘proper police procedure’ for the policemen to drag and toss the bodies into their vehicle on the pretext of taking dead men to the hospital?
That should be a job for the EMS who are paramedics trained to stabilise a victim on their way to the hospital or able to determine if to leave them there and preserve the scene with caution tape until the relevant investigators and DMO get there.
On the fateful day, the GEB not only moved the bodies but also picked up spent shells, wrecked the vehicle and left the scene bare—as if nothing happened there 15 minutes ago. It left the crime scene investigators with almost nothing to work with when they turned up.
If there was a shootout, they should have been shells from the perp’s weapons and gunshot residue on his hand.
But of course we all saw the video; and there was absolutely no attempt by any officer to take cover or use any other evasive action that you would expect when fired upon.
The video showed the sordid episode from the very beginning to the end. Where was the shoot-out?
The time has come for a proper examination and evaluation of our police service, which ironically was changed from police force some years ago.
My suggestions are as follows:
- We need a competent, relentless and uncompromising batch of officers to investigate policemen—like Internal Affairs in the US.
- Toxicology tests should be carried out after each shooting to ensure the officers were of sound mind and free of alcohol or drugs. Also officers should be placed on desk duty immediately after every shooting until such internal investigations are complete.
- The police should reveal forensic reports to support claims that they were fired upon.
- Police officers on patrol should wear body cameras at all times.
- An anonymous mechanism should be set up, which allows good officers to alert their superiors about crooked colleagues.
- PTSD is and it should be mandatory that officers present themselves for therapy after a fatal encounter.
The commissioner of police must understand that the police’s job is to protect and serve. He is not in charge of soldiers and his language must reflect this. Don’t fall for the hype that you are the next Randolph Burroughs.
It is time Trinidad and Tobago gets serious about the way the police conduct business. Don’t wait for your turn to understand: ‘what doh meet yuh, eh pass yuh’.