US Ambassador Joseph Mondello

support: US Ambassador Joseph Mondello speaks to one of the protesters “against racial inequality” who gathered at the Queen’s Park Savannah, yesterday opposite the US Embassy. They were showing solidarity with the #blacklivematter movement protests all over the US. 

A peaceful Black Lives Matter protest escalated yesterday after protesters confronted police officers for videotaping them.

Protesters, mainly young people, had gathered at the Queen’s Park Savannah opposite the US Embassy in Port of Spain in solidarity with the rest of the world on taking a stand after the killing of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer.

In a video circulating on various social media platforms, one protester can be seen pulling off the cap of a police officer while others used obscene language and shouted “No consent”.

Although it is not known who organised the protest, musician and poet Muhammad Muwakil said participants were made up of mainly artistes.

“A group of artistes got together after the word was put out for people come out for the peaceful protest,” Muwakil said, adding that permission was granted for the protest from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“We were against the police filming which I believe is our fundamental right. The police said they had a right to videotape the protest which caused the confrontation because we didn’t consent to the filming. We did not come out to cause any riot, it was a peaceful protest and we adhered to Covid-19 guidelines,” Muwakil said.

Muwakil said it was a shame the world had to reach to this point.

“The ambassador came out, he walked around and looked at signs. The truth is at some point Caribbean people are going to need real allies in the fight that we have with true independence, reparations, food security and economy autonomy.

“We don’t seem to exist and, in some ways, ironically given the name of the Black Lives Matter movement, we don’t seem to matter, when the Caribbean continues to give the world so much.

“Our primary objective is to show solidarity and to begin the discussion on a myriad of topics regarding our own issues here like racism, mis-education in terms of our history and lack of opportunity and the way that the police force treats with the citizenship in terms of the rules of engagement such as ‘one shot one kill’.

“Black people have been still and quiet for a long time and abiding by laws that do not benefit them. There has to be equal justice for everyone,” Muwakil said.

False sense of understanding 

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said yesterday it is normal for police to videotape situations.

He said the police accommodated the protesters and was flexible with them as much as possible.

“People were actually surrounding police officers, they pulled a cap off of an officer, they wanted the sim card from his camera and started to intimidate the officer.

“These are very trying times around the world so I was very flexible in ensuring that no one was arrested. I extended the protest to 4 p.m. People have a false sense of understanding of the law. This is where we need to be a little more mature in understanding that police officers are not the enemy.

“You cannot want to protest and surround police officers and intimidate them. In most countries persons would have been arrested. That did not take place. Five hundred and thirty-eight black lives were lost last year and it wasn’t the police officers who killed those people in cold blood.

“We stand in solidarity with the protesters. We have a responsibility to continue to provide as much support. The police are there to ensure that all goes well,” Griffith said.

The US Embassy issued a statement last Friday on the protests taking place outside the embassy stating: “We salute their peaceful expression of solidarity in support of the ideals of equal justice.

“They join many Americans who are similarly outraged by what transpired and we have seen them express their shock, grief, frustration, and anger in many parts of the United States.

“We at the US Embassy are not immune to these feelings and like the Secretary of State we find the actions that led to the death of Mr Floyd abhorrent.

“His death was a tragedy and never should have happened... Now it is time for healing, for compassion, greater communication, and increased understanding.”

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