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Police Roadblocks in Trinidad & Tobago Stir Public Ire, Not Sympathy

"Directing Traffic in bulletproof vests"; photo by Taran Rampersad,  used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

“Directing Traffic in bulletproof vests”; photo by Taran Rampersad, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The Monday morning blues took on a new meaning in Trinidad and Tobago today, thanks to massive roadblocks carried out by the country's police service, allegedly in protest over the government's failure to settle wage negotiations.

Social media was the outlet of choice for commuters trapped in traffic. From about 6:30 a.m., Facebook users were crowdsourcing the reason for the gridlock, and drivers who use Waze, the popular, community-based navigation app, began entering information about the roadblocks. On Facebook, Maria Rivas-Mc posted:

Police are doing countrywide road blocks, seemingly protest action to speed along wage negotiations. Traffic snarled everywhere. Hear tell hundreds of school children are walking, maxis are offloading passengers and turning around. Reports are police are checking dipsticks, spare tyres, bags of passengers. Not sure if, without due cause, such action on their part is even legal. Never a dull, no-news day in T&T

Facebook user Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde voiced what many netizens were undoubtedly feeling:

Well well TTPS. I can't think of a better way to get the country to support your quest for better salaries than to hold the entire country to ransom. It's ok for hard working people including school children to spend hours in standstill traffic while Kamla [the country's prime minister] and the PP [People's Partnership government] flashing blue lights possee gets to whizz by. Ingenious move …

Skye Hernandez called the whole fiasco “just plain wickedness”. This Twitter user was much more blunt:

In a country where violent crime is widespread and there are very few arrests and even fewer convictions, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service has not won a whole lot of public sympathy for their cause. Many netizens feel that compensation should be linked to performance and the TTPS has not been living up to its motto “to protect and serve” the citizenry. One irate Twitter user explained it using this analogy:

Back on Facebook, Nicholas Laughlin referenced a 2010 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Citizen Security Survey of the Caribbean (see page 103 of the report), noting that:

…only 21.2 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago respondents believed the police show ‘fairness in dealing with people’ and 16.0 per cent said the police show ‘courtesy to ordinary citizens.’ I wonder what those figures would look like if they re-surveyed the populace today.

Steven Valdez wanted to make the gravity of the situation clear to those who may have been tempted to brush off the curious timing of the roadblocks:

……….take a moment to wrap your brain around what happened in our country this morning due to the action of the T&T Police Service…every sector of business, every school, every government institution, every municipal corporation, every health institution, every elderly and/or sick person, every single individual has been affected in a very negative way…it is inconceivable that this can take place without dire consequences !!!…..

Representatives of the police service appeared to be distancing themselves from any possible consequences of the mass action. Inspector Roger Alexander, who hosts a crime show on a local television station, was interviewed on the station's morning programme as to whether the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Social and Welfare Association was “encouraging unofficial action in the form of roadblocks”. His response was a resounding no — the police were simply trying to lower the incidence of traffic accidents, curb crime and “show the importance of police on the ground.” He advised law-abiding citizens to “walk with [their] breakfast, lunch and dinner”.

Minister of Transport Steven Cadiz said that his ministry had no power to ease the gridlock, but he too questioned whether the exercise was related to industrial action. C News Live's Facebook page posted shortly thereafter that the Minister of National Security, who apparently knew nothing beforehand of the planned roadblocks, announced that they would be immediately discontinued.

The comments thread reflected positions on both sides of the divide. Laila Mohammed-Pantin, whose response garnered 246 “likes” at the time of publishing, said:

I am a proud, hard working citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. I have faith in the protective services even though there are times they mess up. Today, that changed. Do you seriously expect citizens to respect the Police Service after a stunt like this ? How many criminals were caught heading to work on a Monday morning with guns, driving drunk or missing documents ? When you put self before country, when you hold an entire nation to ransom, when you play politics with your duty to protect and serve, you have failed us. Shame on those who instigated, took part and allowed this fiasco. SHAME ON YOU !!!

Facebook user Adrian Juman countered:

Pay the protective services they blasted money ….how is it possible that a clerk is getting more money than a job where you risk your life on a daily basis …..WELL DONE POLICE LOCK D CITY UP

Some netizens took the opportunity to draw attention to the country's need for better traffic solutions. On Facebook, Natasha Ramnauth said:

Now maybe, we will give more credence to decetralisation [sic], school zones, staggered work hours and a host of other solutions.

On Twitter, Attillah Springer added:

Many are concerned about the fact that top brass in the Ministry of National Security and the police service seemingly had no knowledge of the island-wide roadblocks, particularly since all official communication denies that the exercise was linked to industrial action. Had that been the case, public sympathy might have swayed more in the favour of the police; most people can appreciate that working conditions are often sub-par and many police officers are underpaid. As it stands, though, citizens feel that their civil rights have been trampled upon. This, however, did not stop Trinbagonians from injecting humour into the situation:

Still, most netizens interpreted what happened this morning as – at best – an incredible inconvenience and at worst, an infringement on civil liberties. The same Twitter user that called the police action “a terrorists [sic] attack from agents of the state”, made a call for the people to use their own power:

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