In June 2020, protests erupted in Port of Spain and environs following the police killings of three men in Second Caledonia, Morvant.
Youths from such communities as Beetham Gardens, Sea Lots, John John and other parts of east Port of Spain thronged the roadways leading into the capital over two days. There were stand-offs involving police officers. These incidents themselves took place three months after the killings at the end of March.
The authorities said at the time they knew who was behind the disturbances, that people were paid to protest, and that things could have been worse if they did not move as they did to forestall further disruption in and around the capital city. They celebrated what they trumpeted as the superior monitoring capabilities which the law enforcement agencies possessed.
It is to be noted that no one has ever been charged, or even knowingly been held for questioning, over the claims that this was a plot by persons bent on destabilisation.
Also of significance, as a “marking the spot” development from those actions, Ornella Greaves, from the Beetham district, was shot dead during the protests on that June morning. While police have disputed residents’ claim she was killed by a police bullet, the Police Complaints Authority is continuing its probe. Like so many other probes, we await the outcome.
In the wake of the June disturbances, the Prime Minister announced the formation of the Community Recovery Committee headed by noted behaviour change and organisational transformation expert, Anthony Watkins.
The PM said its marching orders were to first focus on those communities in East Port of Spain. Care was taken to include on that committee young people whose public profiles presumed that it would have been easy connecting with those who were to be the ones first impacted by whatever prescriptions the committee would recommend.
Cynicism has coloured the reactions of those residents, given their responses to our team which visited the areas last week. One resident expressed the view that the outcry over the shootings had already faded to the point at which “life has gone back to normal”.
The feeling of prolonged, continued neglect of their communities is as indicative of popular sentiment among them as it may ever have been.
They report no evidence of real engagement by the members of the committee itself, and expectations of tangible efforts at securing what they define as justice for the killings of the three young men remain to be met.
Remarkably, one emerging community leader in the most genuine interpretation of that term, while acknowledging efforts by the Watkins Committee, described them as “PR opportunities highlighting the good in East Port of Spain”.
From bounding sentiments on the ground in various corners of these communities, this is not hitting home just yet. The committee itself, as well as the Office of the Prime Minister, which made for its establishment must take this sounding as an indication of the gap which exists between ambition and expectations on this initiative. They must move swiftly to bridge those gaps before momentum is lost, perhaps irretrievably.