“Nothing has changed. We are still waiting for justice.”
This in essence is how residents feel eight months after they were promised action when they protested the police killings of three men as well as other social and economic issues.
In June 2020 when protests erupted in Port of Spain and environs following the police killings of three men in Morvant, the Morvant community and the surrounding areas of Beetham Gardens, Sea Lots, John John and other areas in East Port of Spain found themselves under the national spotlight.
For days, protesters held the country’s attention as they called for justice for Joel Jacob, Noel Diamond and Israel Moses Clinton who were shot and killed by police on June 27.
The protests were compared to those that erupted across the US just a month before, in response to the death in police custody of George Floyd.
While many criticised the local protesters for what was deemed to be a “riot”, for residents of these communities it was their chance to be heard, to highlight their grievances and demand action while they had the country’s focus.
And for a while, they believed the protests would be the catalyst for change. Their hopes were further lifted when, in the aftermath of the protests, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the establishment of a “Community Recovery Committee” mandated to “evaluate and design a path forward for communities in need”.
He said the initial focus would be on East Port of Spain communities.
Now, some eight months later, residents say focus has long since waned and very little has changed.
The Sunday Express visited the communities yesterday and spoke with residents who all expressed the same view—that the country seems to have moved on and forgotten.
“It is that seven day-effect,” a Morvant resident, who gave his name as Raymond, said.
Raymond spoke with the Sunday Express at Juman Drive, Second Caledonia, a stone’s throw from where Jacob, Diamond and Clinton were killed.
“Everything that happens in this country, people only get on for a few days, a week tops, and then they go back to normal. That happen long time. Nobody really studying what going on here again,” he said.
Talk, talk, talk
Another resident, Declan Phillip, said simply: “Nothing has changed. We are still waiting for justice.”
Other residents in the area were reluctant to speak with the Sunday Express saying they were tired of talking and feeling like nobody was really listening.
“It’s just talk, talk, talk. You will write that article and then what? What that going and do?” a visibly annoyed resident questioned.
When the Sunday Express visited Beetham Gardens, the views were much the same.
“In the beginning it was a big thing,” said a Beetham Gardens resident who gave his name as “Pumpkin”.
“But everything is still the same way, nothing happened. Now it gone to the back burner. Nobody came in and nobody doing nothing for us. We need employment, develop the place better, deal with the flooding,” he said.
Community activist Kareem Marcelle said he was disappointed that after eight months, nothing tangible has been done by the Community Recovery Committee and justice has not been delivered.
“That is what the communities came together for, in terms of the protests. So when the Prime Minister came on the heels of the protests and addressed the country in a father-like manner, it was one of my proudest moments looking on as my Prime Minister urged us not to seek revenge but rather to seek justice,” Marcelle recalled.
Not looking for miracles
Marcelle said the establishment of the committee was a brilliant idea and one which he fully supported at first, but after eight months he is less optimistic.
“Even in its eight months, the recovery committee has not substantively put forward anything that has been tangible to really affect the lives of the East Port of Spain community. I say that without fear of contradiction.
“Sure, there have been a few little short programmes that they are looking at bringing on stream and they have had a few PR opportunities highlighting the good in East Port of Spain. That is all fine and well, but how do we get the actual tangible opportunities? There have not been any widespread opportunities in these communities that has been as a result of this Recovery Committee. And quite frankly, they are sticking,” he said.
He cited the Beetham Gardens “begging for our drainage to be fixed, for our roads to be fixed, for housing to be maintained for those who are under the Housing Development Corporation. We have been pleading for that kind of re-energisation and realisation in terms of getting these infrastructural developments”.
Marcelle said there are people within the communities with the skills to do these jobs and they should be given the opportunity to help rebuild their communities while also training other youth.
Asked whether he felt it was fair to expect the Community Recovery Committee to fix longstanding problems in eight months, Marcelle said he did not expect any miracles but rather small, impactful initiatives that do not take months to plan.
“I don’t think we are looking for miraculous changes. We are looking for tangible progress or initiatives or programmes that can affect lives. Simple things I am talking about... like a job fair or a marketing fair or something like that.
“I have seen MPs doing it throughout Trinidad and Tobago, but I have not seen it in Laventille. I am not saying that the wheels have to be continuously rolling by now, but at least we should be able to see it turning a little,” he said.
He said he was not willing to accept Covid-19 as an excuse, as political rallies and meetings had taken place during the pandemic.
United in tragedy
Marcelle noted that following the protests, with the hope that there would be some change for the communities, rival areas have made peace for the first time in years.
He said the communities united over the death of Ornella Greaves, a pregnant woman who was shot and killed during the protests. Residents believe Greaves was shot by police though police have disputed this claim.
Nevertheless, Marcelle said the tragedy united the communities and for the past eight months there has been a peace in Laventille that did not exist before and a virtual eradication of “borderlines”.
“I can leave Beetham and walk across to John John without being killed. I can go from Nelson Street to Duncan Street without being shot at. The borders have been broken, We have had false peace treaties before... treaties that lasted a week or two weeks. This has been going on for eight months, with no political involvement. It came about as something natural,” he said.
He said it is imperative the Government capitalises on this before the moment passes or the deaths of Jacob, Diamond, Clinton, Greaves and her unborn baby would have been in vain.
“Eight months is enough time to capitalise on this because it could break any minute,” he said.