Amid concerns expressed by some that the youths on the block are stigmatized, a call has gone out from Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves for members of the constabulary to improve their relationship with those youths who are not hardened criminals.
That appeal came on Monday during a press conference at Cabinet room as the Prime Minister spoke of what he said were plausible allegations made recently by a number of young people with whom he has had conversations both at his office and at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital where he met them initially.
“Twelve of them came to see me – a shopkeeper, a male, his girlfriend and 10 other young men. I have their details. We had a long conversation and during the conversation I asked the commissioner if he was winding up his meeting, his usual Friday meeting,” Dr Gonsalves said.
Indicating that they young persons were from the average family, Prime Minister Gonsalves said: “The first thing to observe is that every single one of them went to secondary school. Some of them had CXCs, some dropped out at For 3 or Form 4. One was from the Grammar School who had 9 CXCs – he went to Community College, he dropped out from the associate degree because he was informed by someone or he received the information that the associate degrees are not accredited, they ain’t worth anything, so he left.”
Prime Minister Gonsalves added: “We have to be careful what we say eh. People are listening. We have to be careful. Young people are listening.”
The Prime Minister said that, responding to his request, the Commissioner of Police and senior officers went to his office and joined the conversation with the young men and the young lady.
“I want to commend the police on helping to make us safer. But I am concerned that some police officers who are confronting persons who are not hardened criminals – because persons who are hardened criminals, I’ve said before you’re not obliged to recite the beatitudes to them — but I want to make a plea for better relationship between the police and young men on the block for a greater understanding of each other.
“And these men on the block, they have their rights, individual rights and freedoms and some matters have come to my attention where there are plausible allegations that sometimes some police officers are not as scrupulous as they ought to be in their professional pursuit of their duties and within the four walls of the law,” Dr Gonsalves said.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said that one of the young persons was a footballer whom he had dealt with before, him having sustained an injury, and another had played cricket for the under-15.
“All of them are articulate. Of course, most of them hadn’t written any subjects. A couple of them are doing farming, one or two of them are in construction, electrical work and the like. And, of course, one of them openly said ‘Prime minister, I am not a saint’,” Gonsalves said.
“But how many saints are there in the world?” Dr Gonsalves asked. “I can’t remember anybody being canonised as a saint from St. Vincent and the Grenadines as yet. And even saints are sinners who have come to redemption.”
Dr Gonsalves said that from the conversation that flowed, including during the presence of the police commissioner and his senior officers, “there are things which the police have to pay attention to.”
“When you take people’s cell phones and you examine them, you must return them with promptitude to people. If somebody tells you he is a farmer and you take his tools, which a responsible person had purchased for him, because he works with a responsible person on a farm, if you take the tools because you might have a suspicion – I don’t know – those tools should be returned with promptitude. They are not part of any criminal enterprise.
“You can’t also go to somebody place, break down the door and mash up furniture inside, you are a police. You can’t do that,” he said.
The Prime Minister said persons have to make sure in this small country that they do their best to live in peace and to have tolerance.
“I know there are hardened criminals from out at that area where last year, a couple of persons died, or were killed. I don’t know whether by people in the area or people who have gone into the area. I don’t know. I’m not commenting on that. But I’m commenting on the broad issue. Because, if the police don’t function in relation to young people, in a manner with sensitivity, you can create problems additional to those which exist. At the same time, the police, they are frontline in establishing law and order. So, I say I want to put this question out there and for the young people to know, and the general public to know that I had a long conversation with these twelve persons, these twelve young people,” Dr Gonsalves said.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said he is “hoping to continue to have a conversation like that and with others.” He, however, noted that those allegations were not new to him because as a practicing lawyer, he knew of many cases.