Daylight murders, shootings ignite fear in capital city

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Crime scene investigators recover evidence at Harpe Place, Observatory Street, Port of Spain on March 16 where five people were killed and three injured. – Angelo Marcelle

THE increasing number of murders and shooting incidents in the capital city, especially those occurring in broad daylight on busy shopping streets, has injected fear and caution in those who work, shop and live in Port of Spain.

While an increase in pickpocketing and purse or phone-snatching is also a big concern to many, people who frequent the danger zones say they still have to carry on with their routine, but they are more vigilant.

Up to April 26, 35 people were murdered in the Port of Spain police district, and about 18 of those took place in the city itself. There have been numerous shooting incidents, in some cases no one was injured, but others left a trail of people wounded.

The upsurge in violent crime in Port of Spain has been blamed primarily on gang violence with tit-for-tat killings from opposing gangs in the East Port of Spain, Beetham Gardens, Laventille and Belmont.

Police officers on patol along Charlotte Street, Port of Spain on March 11. – Faith Ayoung

Vendors and store owners believed more people were staying away from the capital as much as possible, only venturing in when they had to. They also believed a higher level of police officers on foot and mobile patrol in the capital would help reduce crime and make people feel safe enough to return to shopping.

A woman, who worked at the South Port of Spain Relief Centre on George Street, said she was sure everyone living, working or passing in town was concerned as criminals did not seem to care if they shot men, women or children.

She said she and her co-workers had to duck and hide at the sound of gunshots. She said they were fearful for their lives when they heard gunshots as the noises usually sounded close by and they never knew where the sounds were coming from.

She said she usually walked with her children to school in town and, walked to work and then home every day. She was worried they would be hit by a stray bullet.

“I don’t feel safe, but we have to make the trek to school and work every day. I think the police should have more foot patrols, not passing in their vans with their windows up and air conditioning on because then they don’t notice anything.

“I saw plenty of joint police and army patrols during Carnival for the tourists but that’s done. I guess tourists are more important than the citizens of this country.”

A fish vendor on George Street told Newsday he comes to work in fear, but that was just part of life at the moment. He said he was always worried about who would be the next victim but since he could do nothing about the crime and violence, he “prayed hard.”

Two officers from the Capital City Patrol Unit on duty along Charlotte Street, Port of Spain on April 2. – Faith Ayoung

Petal Jack, a bartender at D Bass at the Trinidad All Stars panyard, at the corner of Duke and George Streets, said she was accustomed to hearing gunshots in the area, but as nothing ever happened on the All Stars compound she felt quite safe there. However, she stressed that she did not feel safe walking on the streets as she could never tell where the gunshots were coming from and there were people snatching bags and phones out of people’s hands.

Louanna Ballantine, of Macoya, who was shopping with her son on Queen Street, said there was always a shooting or killing in Port of Spain now, so it was “normal” to her.

“I don’t worry about it. You have to live, come out and shop. You can’t live your whole life scared and locked up in your house.”

A produce vendor on Charlotte Street said she did not feel safe at all while working. She said when there were shootings in the area, she could sometimes feel the vibrations from the gunshots. She said does not bring too much goods to sell as she might have to leave it behind and run for her life.

She too felt unsafe with the numerous thefts being carried out on the city’s streets. She said she had to “watch her back” while working because if something happened a police officer could not be found nearby.

One clothing store worker on Henry Street, who only gave her name as Nedra, was emphatic in saying, “Port of Spain gone through!”

She said, coming to work in town from Arima, sometimes there would be little traffic compared to previous times so she had to wonder if schools were closed and she was not aware.

She said the store had seen a “drastic reduction” in customers and sales, as she believed shoppers were diverting to malls as well as to Chaguanas and south Trinidad.

“Every time a shooting happens in town people look to get out immediately. That’s it for the day there. Sales done one time. And that low level of people lingers for a while after. The only reason people are coming into Port of Spain is because they have to.”

A man from Gulf View, La Romaine, agreed saying he only went to town because he worked there. He said he was very concerned about the shootings as well as the number of incidents of theft which he said was “overbearing,” especially because the police were “never around when you need them.”

People make their way along Charlotte Street, Port of Spain on April 26 among street-side vendors who ply their trade on either side of the street. – Angelo Marcelle

A shopper from Maraval said she used to love to go into town, especially Charlotte Street, and look for bargains. While she still loved the energy of Charlotte Street she did not linger any more. She said now she just went to town to do what she had to and got out as quickly as possible.

The owner of a clothing and footwear store on Henry Street said he felt “uncomfortable” being in Port of Spain with all the shootings. He too wished there would be more police foot patrols as he believed it would give people a sense of safety and comfort so they would return to shop in town.

He said Fridays and Saturdays used to be busy in town with crowds of people shopping but now there was far less pedestrian traffic and by 5 pm the streets were empty.

“Of course, it’s affecting business. People are no longer walking about and window shopping like they do in malls. I would say sales have dropped by 25-30 per cent. All we are doing is paying rent to the landlord.”

One bookstore manager said the effect of the situation was obvious as people who were regular customers made the employees aware they would not be returning to the Port of Spain branch, either because they had been robbed in town or they were fearful of the shootings. As a result, he had seen a significant drop in sales.

“Only if the police decide to get off their seats, get out of the station and crack down on these criminals would anything improve.”

Murders in the Port of Spain Division

On January 7, 26-year-old Akeil Archer, of Upper Belmont Valley Road, Belmont was shot dead while erecting Carnival booths around the Queen’s Park Savannah.

A white twin cab pickup pulled in front of the three-tonne pickup he was in, men came out of the twin cab and shot at the men in the three-tonne. Archer was killed on the spot.

On January 8, around 5.20 am, two gunmen opened fire at people near the Breakfast Shed at the waterfront on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, killing Omar Hunte, 39, from Dibe Road, Long Circular, St James, and injuring another.

Eleven-year-old Ezekiel Paria was killed by a stray bullet on February 22, after school while standing on the road near Mapp Trace, Laventille Road, East Dry River around 4.50 pm when gunmen ambushed a passing vehicle.

Antonio Trim, 29, Jevone Peters, 32, and Kirby Victor, 37, were all shot dead in a car at Saddle Road, Maraval, when they were ambushed by gunmen at around 5.30 pm on February 26.

On March 2, at about 9.50 pm Port of Spain police responded to gunshots being heard on Charlotte Street. Officers found Mosi Ross, of Duncan Street, dead near East Side Plaza. A soldier was also injured during the incident.

DJ Elijah “Sugars” Babb, 27, was fatally shot at Eastern Quarry, Laventille as he was driving along that street on March 3 at about 8.15 am. He had slowed his car to go over a speed bump when an unknown man ran up to the car and shot him several times.

On March 5, roadside vendor Jaheim Diaz, 20, was gunned down while selling water and juice out of Styrofoam coolers at the corner of Duke and Charlotte Streets.

On March 16, at 10.55 am, five people, including a police sergeant, were killed when a car drove into Harpe Place, a Housing Development Corporation apartment complex, off Observatory Street, Port of Spain. The occupants of the car started shooting indiscriminately. Three others were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds.

On April 19, Claude Sandy, 26, of East Dry River was driving his silver Nissan Almera when a group of armed men standing on Fromager Street opened fire on the car. Another man was injured during the shooting and taken to the hospital.

On that same day, Lettrelle Daniel, 23, and Jamal Etienne, 32, both from Laventille, were killed while sitting in a parked white car on Piccadilly Street around 10.42 pm when two masked gunmen approached and started shooting.