Former police commissioner, Gary Griffith has once again found himself at loggerheads with his former colleagues over matters of policing. This time Gary Griffith was reiterating a position that he had previously stated to the Cnc3 morning brew host, Jason Williams when he said that the use of CS Tear gas against children, the elderly, the media, innocent motorists, and bystanders was unjustified and uncalled for. That position that had been taken by the former Top CoP differed from acting CoP McDonald Jacob who had also stated to the same morning brew host that his officers had operated within the use of force policy when they used the CS Tear gas on civilians around the savannah last Sunday.
In a Whatsapp message sent to reporters last night, Gary Griffith noted, “I have noticed comments by persons who are attempting to justify the actions taken on citizens during the protest held on Sunday. Everyone is free to give an opinion; however, it is interesting if I give one, persons become offended and their view is that I should not speak.”
Gary Griffith added: “There is something also known as the minimum use of force policy-If any of the ‘johnny come lately’ armchair experts are stating that this was the least force that could have been used for citizens who were not being hostile or confrontational then it says a lot.”
He continued: “Additionally, one can recall similar protests such as the Black Lives Matter at the same savannah and the Candlelight Vigil. The difference, however, is that as the head of the TTPS, I was on the ground to make the sole decision, and ensured that no such force would be used, as it would have just escalated the situation.
Interestingly enough, when there was a funeral of the leader of the attempted coup, the same individual who is stating that the use of force to tear gas citizens was warranted on Sunday, had a different view for that funeral, when he stated that he analyzed the scenario and believed that any police enforcement may have escalated the situation.
So, to those new experts who are saying that the action taken on Sunday was justified, are you then also saying that the police erred by not tear gassing all who attended the funeral, or the Beetham residents when they threw debris and protested just a few days ago? There is a saying that you cannot be half pregnant.”
Griffith also opined that on Sunday there was no riot. “To commence, the term “Riot Shields” and “Riot Gear” given to law enforcement is aimed for just that-to deal with riots. Maybe, I missed it but there was no riot taking place that day.” Griffith said.
Before Sunday’s incident, the last time that CS Tear Gas was used against civilians in Trinidad and Tobago was in July 2020 when there were several clashes between police and residents from Port-of-Spain and environs protesting the shooting deaths of three men from Morvant. At that time, Gary Griffith was at the helm of the police service.
In justifying the use of Tear Gas in 2020, and not on Sunday, the former police commissioner said: “Note: On Sunday at the Savannah, granted that persons were in breach of the Public Health Regulations(just as hundreds did in Tobago prior to the THA Elections), there was no riot, no attacking the police, the police were not in danger, there was no danger to other citizens or assets, and the crowd comprised children, elderly, media and a vast number of citizens driving their vehicles around savannah who endured the trauma of CS Gas.
Anyone trying to state that such a scenario warrants the use of citizens being tear-gassed because they were breaking the law, then are they stating that what took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989 was an appropriate use of force?
Perhaps, many may have forgotten, however, in 2020, there was the biggest planned civil unrest the country had seen since July 1990, when 33 well-planned illegal roadblocks were orchestrated using burnt tyres and debris, all taking place within a four-hour window.” According to Griffith, what he had done differently was to establish an Operational Command Centre and a Commissioner’s Command Centre that ensured proper coordination. He added that the police had known about the operations days before.
“Unlike the sole Beetham roadblock incident last week that took hours to end, the 33 protests in 2020 around the country of similar road blockages were thwarted in minutes.
The massive civil unrest in 2020 came to the fore with over 150-200 men walking together as a mob into Port-of-Spain, heading south on Frederick Street each armed with Molotov cocktails, pieces of wood, iron, bottles with all intent to destroy the city buildings to cause further chaos. I directed that operation and to avoid clashes with the police, CS Gas was used at them but 50 meters ahead of them, to cause them to divert away from downtown PoS and turn east away from the city. The operation was a success. Not a soul was injured and the city was untouched.”
Griffith also peddled the view that it was hypocritical for persons to justify the use of tear-gas on peaceful protesters. “Apart from the hypocrisy of that view, in this specific matter, very few citizens have the experience and training as I have acquired to deal with riots and crowd control, be it in the UK at Sandhurst in the peak of such clashes with the IRA, to being in the UN Peacekeeping Force in Haiti, to the attempted coup in this country. However, it is amazing that persons with no such training, experience, or qualifications in this field, are out defending the use of force seen on citizens that day.” He said.
On Sunday, civilians protesting the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic were confronted by police officers in riot gear. Tear gas was used and several persons were later arrested and charged.