What should have been a simple presentation of keys ceremony turned near explosive in the St Paul Street crime hot spot in east Port-of-Spain yesterday with military back up having to be called in to reinforce police presence in the area. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar turned up with a heavy security detail in place to deliver the feature address at the presentation of keys for the Housing Development Corporation's Clifton Street Towers to residents of the area. Angry people lined the street protesting loudly, mainly against the Government's arrest of only "small fry" criminals and the non-arrest of the big sharks. Their voices rose as a group of East Indians passed by along St Paul Street on their way to the Towers to collect keys.
"They bring the whole of Caroni down! We have to protest!" a woman shouted. Just before the PM spoke under a tent set up in the courtyard of the Towers, the shouts coming up from the bottom of the hill intensified as a woman was arrested. When PNM MP for the area Marlene McDonald arrived and went to the head table, a man, waving the programme, walked into the tent and shouted loudly and repeatedly, "Why your name not here, darling?" McDonald, who was not listed on the programme to speak, spoke before Housing and the Environment Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal and Persad-Bissessar. She gave special thanks to HDC managing director Jearlean John for inviting her to the function.
But even while the shouts from the bottom of the hill continued Persad-Bissessar, during her address, remained uncompromising in her stand against those who are bent on a life of lawlessness. Noting that the distribution of houses was one aspect of the Government's crime-fighting initiative, the PM stated, "It is significant that we are assembled here, considered to be both a hot spot for crime and one of the most neglected areas, to launch the Clifton Street housing project. "We are cognisant of the fact that crime has several faces, places, causes and effect and there is a need to address each within its own context." But the PM was uncompromising in her stand against criminals.
"I also understand that, for some, the long arm of the law is our best course of action. "And for those bent on remaining in a life of criminality we will take them out in one way or the other." By this time, army officers who were not visible at the start of the function appeared and positioned themselves at strategic points. Persad-Bissessar said the Government is committed to providing a choice for people but is equally committed to taking the strongest action against those who refuse to follow that path. "Make no mistake about it...This Government will remove lawlessness at every level from this society," she said. "There is no room for compromise on this." The PM said those apprehended included those who have unleashed some of the most vicious attacks on people. "We now have them, hundreds of them, they are no longer out there to harm you and your loved ones," she said. "They are the ones who are now fearful and running to hide."