“You cannot treat children like criminals.”
That’s the comment of former magistrate Lucinda Cardenas-Ragoonanan following a recent police exercise in Sea Lots where several minors were made to lie on the ground and lectured on not adhering to stay-at-home COVID-19 regulations.
Of the 27 persons held on April 19, at least 15 were minors, some below the age of ten, the Express understands.
A video released by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) showed minors lying face down on the shore of jutting rocks with heavily-armed police officers standing guard over them.
A voice says: “Allyuh stay right there, allyuh stay right there, stay right there. Ent allyuh was singing songs about Gary (Griffith) yesterday? Allyuh ain’t singing again? All ah allyuh who was singing about Gary sing now. Allyuh singing about corona, lemme hear you now. Allyuh want to keep singing? You, aye look up. Yuh not singing again?”
According to Cardenas-Ragoonanan: “What you need to do is gather them up, inform or enquire about their parents or who is in charge of them, send information to them because a parent or someone over 18 must be there. Whenever a child is arrested or brought into a police station, an attorney is requested to come to be there with the child. They really should not be doing anything that will interfere with the child’s rights.”
The former Family Court magistrate said what occurred left her horrified,
“You cannot like what they did there; that was totally wrong to put them lying down like that. It was totally ridiculous, you do not treat children like that. I just could not believe what I heard when I saw that. If they think that is a way of punishing them right there and then, that is not your job to be punishing. That’s why we have the Children’s Court now. There are many different ways you can use to bring children back in line if things are going wrong, but you can only find out these things when you sit properly, listen and find out what their situation is,” Cardenas-Ragoonanan added.
While she admitted that nothing was wrong with speaking to the minors, it was the manner in which it was done.
“It was as though they were little criminals. To me, it was very inappropriate, you could have said in a stern voice what you wanted to say, explain to them the consequences of their actions. Asking them to repeat and stating ‘allyuh talk now’, what are you really doing?
“It is suggesting that you are being biased because you are trying to get at them all, because they were talking about you. That has nothing to do with you; so it seems as though you are attacking them because they said something about you, not because they breached the rules and went bathing in the sea.”
Different kind of approach needed
Counselling psychologist Anna Maria Mora, whose target groups include adults and adolescents from diverse cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, told the Express in an interview last Friday that a different approach is needed.
“They (minors) may not have been exposed to how caring human beings treat each other. Yes, they were released, but I wonder if Uncle Gary went and had a talk with them.
“Some children are accustomed with that kind of aggression; it’s like water falling on a duck’s back. I am sure if they had received a different kind of approach, it would have made a difference. We have to do things differently. If the Commissioner had said ‘fellas, children, come here and sit, let me talk to you...okay you all cussed me, why?’ Explain to them why it’s dangerous to be out there, talk with them as opposed to exercising power over them.
“They were treated in a way they are accustomed and the feeling of embarrassment would last for a moment, a month, but they will go back, start to laugh about it and say they get away.”
Children’s Authority head:
Proper structures needed
Contacted on April 23 for comment on the Sea Lots minors being made to lie on the seashore with armed police officers hovering over them, being placed in a marked police vehicle while pictures and video footage were being taken of them by police officers and being disseminated, chairman of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin said he saw the video.
“There were people...children and adults liming. The police break up the lime. That’s what I saw, the police break up the lime, because you can’t charge somebody for liming. I would strongly advise that you stay home.”
Asked for comment on the manner in which the exercise took place involving children, Benjamin said: “To be quite honest with you, I really don’t see a story for us. I am being very honest. If you want to talk about how we can keep children safe, that to me is what is important now, and I am trying to figure out…I am not going to get in between what the police did and what they should not have done and what they should have done. I really am not going to get involved in that.
“I want to get involved in why are adults taking out children and liming with children, that to me is the story and how can we get children and adults to follow the advice of the Honourable Prime Minister. That is where I would want to go. But I don’t really want to go in between what the people did or didn’t do and about them repeating a mantra, whatever it was.”
The Express pointed out the Judge’s Rules and the guidelines in place for police interaction with children and asked Benjamin whether he saw anything wrong with the way the children were handled by the police.
“What I am saying is that I would prefer to engage in conversation in relation to how do we keep our children safe. I am not going into what the police did and whether it is right. You quoted the Judges’ Rules and there is something which states how they deal with children, then they need to ensure they follow the Judges’ Rules that is designed for children, that is what I am prepared to say on that matter. But I will not go into the veracity of the issue itself.
“We need to provide supervision for our children, the family system needs to kick in, in providing supervision. Children are risk-takers and it is for those reasons we are saying people need to put proper structures in place for supervision.”