‘Downright dangerous!’ MSJ condemns Jacob’s explanation for use of tear gas on protesters

“[…] What is also of extreme concern was the statement made by more than one senior police officer, including by the CoP (Ag) McDonald Jacob, that the tear gas was used shortly after protesters started chanting ‘Rowley must go’. 

“Mr Jacob surmised that this chant could have been the precursor to some other kind of actions that were riotous. This assertion would be deemed totally absurd if it was made by a supporter of the ruling party, but coming from the hierarchy of the TTPS it is downright dangerous…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s response to protests against the Government’s proposed ‘quasi-safe zones’ on 16 January 2022 was submitted by MSJ political leader David Abdulah:

Photo: Police officers ready tear gas canisters for use as they attempt to break up a protest at the Queen’s Park Savannah on 16 January 2022.

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is extremely disturbed by the use of tear gas as a crowd control measure by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain on Sunday 16 January. 

We have listened to the statements made by senior officers of the TTPS, including the one by the Acting Commissioner of Police, McDonald Jacob, in media interviews as well as the statements by those who were part of and/or led the demonstration.

It is our considered view that the firing of tear gas into the demonstrators was unnecessary and an abuse of power and we condemn it. What is also of extreme concern was the statement made by more than one senior police officer, including by the CoP (Ag), that the tear gas was used shortly after protesters started chanting ‘Rowley must go’. 

Mr Jacob surmised that this chant could have been the precursor to some other kind of actions that were riotous. This assertion would be deemed totally absurd if it were made by a supporter of the ruling party, but coming from the hierarchy of the TTPS, it is downright dangerous!

Photo: Acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob (left).
(via TTPS)

The MSJ position is very clear. We support and will defend the right of citizens to exercise their ‘freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association and assembly; freedom of conscience and the right to express political views’, all of which are expressly established in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. These are part of the bedrock of a democratic society.

We also recognise that some of these rights have been very severely restricted by law, especially the Summary Offences Act, which originated as an old colonial law designed by the British to keep the working classes repressed and ‘under manners’. Since Independence, governments have strengthened provisions of this colonial law, which amendments have further undermined citizens’ constitutional rights. 

Freedom of expression and of assembly are examples of this curtailment as ‘permission’ is required to hold a public march. Over time, the TTPS has also wrongfully included pickets and other protests in their definition of what requires their ‘permission’.

For the TTPS to now take the position that citizens expressing their political views (Rowley must go) is a threat to public order and requires the use of tear gas is taking us down the slippery slope of a police state where the coercive arm of the state is used to put down—violently if they deem it necessary—any protest against the government in office.

The TTPS must not be used as a weapon against citizens in the interest of any government. 

We call on the CoP (Ag) to explain his position and that of his senior officers. And we call on the Law Association and other civic bodies to issue statements on this matter.

Silence is not an option.

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