No matter how he slices and dices the facts, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and his officers cannot escape the charge of selective and discriminatory policing based on the privileges of income and colour. Commissioner Griffith will have to do more than plead dubious law if he is to convince the population otherwise. The same goes for the Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh.
Both of them need to explain why the persons cavorting in and around a pool at Bayside Towers in Cocorite this week were not arrested on the grounds of being on private property while others, including 32 guests at a get-together in a Valsayn home, were arrested, taken to police stations, charged and ordered to appear in court for breach of Covid-19 regulations.
While making heavy weather about the private status of Bayside Towers, both public officials ignored the fact that the police were actually called in by the Towers’ management to deal with a perceived public health threat by defiant visitors on its property.
Until the Bayside Towers incident, people who were confused by being arrested on private property were nonetheless complying with the police. Now with Commissioner Griffith and Health Minister Deyalsingh saying the public health regulations do not apply to gatherings on private property, we can expect such charges to be challenged, with the possibility of further civil action against the authorities.
True to form, when confronted with public criticism of this apparent double-standard by the police, Commissioner Griffith went on the offensive, sniping at critics on social media. As is so often the case, his contribution brought more heat than light to the substantive issues. Instead of logic and legal clarification, what the public got from him was the usual dose of ridicule and sarcasm which provided no answer to the public’s questions. Instead of explaining the TTPS’ contradictory policing, he lashed out at citizens, calling them jokers and hypocrites.
The outrage being expressed by the public has been fuelled by other policing inconsistencies. When photos surfaced of an upscale party Down the Islands, which later triggered anxiety among attendees about possible exposure to coronavirus, Commissioner Griffith took the position that the police could not act without the information that would have led to them being caught in the act. The idea of questioning the identified party organiser was apparently not even considered.
In the case of the Bayside Towers lime, if published reports are to be believed, the police officers actually advised those involved to disperse before they arrived. The few who did not comply were warned by the officers, who then apparently went on their merry way.
Contrast this with the humiliation meted out by the police to groups of young black men of Sea Lots who were made to lie on the ground while being subjected to police cameras recording their apologies for posting online.
Between them, the contrasting images of Bayside Towers and Sea Lots tell a deeply disturbing story about policing in T&T with which Commissioner Griffith and his officers must come to grips if they are to gain the public’s trust.