“We would not allow mob rule to take over the city.”
Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez made this declaration shortly after police used tear gas to disperse a group of rioters and demonstrators who had gathered in front of City Hall in the capital city yesterday.
As word spread like wildfire about the use of tear gas, a cellphone businessman at New City Mall on Independence Square said he was closing early and not taking any chances. Security guards manned the entrance to the mall. Customers said they saw people covering their eyes and scampering for safety.
Most people were overheard saying they were leaving town early. A popular jewelry store closed. People telephoned their loved ones working in the city to ensure they were safe.
Martinez however gave burgesses and the country the assurance that “there are a lot of police in the city and they seem to have the city under control. There is a sense of calmness in the city’s downtown area”.
He also said yesterday police had to “send back” a group of protesters in the vicinity of the Parliament on St Vincent Street on Tuesday when riots erupted in several communities along the East-West Corridor over the police killings of Morvant residents Joel Jacob, Noel Diamond and Israel Clinton.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Martinez said: “We had a group of rioters or demonstrators that traversed Frederick Street. They met at the corner of Knox Street, in front of City Hall. They stood there for a while shouting. Then they moved along to Park Street. There were sounds of shots. At this point, tear gas was used. The group dispersed. They regrouped and then they penetrated the city.”
Martinez added: “We had to remove debris at the corner of Queen Street. There were blockages on Duke Street. Earlier in the afternoon, I had to remove some profanity from Capt Andrew Cipriani’s statue. It was the F-word. It was written about the Police Commissioner (Gary Griffith). We removed it immediately.”
‘People fearful of protesters’
On Tuesday’s mayhem, Martinez said: “It has put us back a bit. I must compliment the Municipal Police for quelling the disturbances that took place. If the police had not displayed a great measure of strength and fortitude to deal with the situation, it could have been a worst-case scenario.”
Martinez said corporation workers who live in the protesting communities like Sea Lots, Beetham and Morvant were reluctant to remove the debris because they were “fearful for their lives”. Tree stumps, bags of garbage, old clothing, shoes and tyres were burnt.
He said: “They told us they live in the same community, and if they removed the debris, their lives and their families could have been endangered. We had to turn to the Ministry of National Security and get the army to remove the debris.”
This, Martinez said, “meant they had moved from the original cause of the protests. They moved into mob. They were encouraging violence”.
Sharing his sentiments on the premature closure of several businesses on Tuesday, Martinez said: “It’s really disheartening to have to deal with this situation after we just came out of Covid-19. It’s sad that a week ago, the corporation was cleaning the city with the help of a corporate sponsor and volunteers. It’s unfortunate this is happening at a time when we are celebrating 106 years of the Municipal Rights of the City of Port of Spain.”