Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is defending his early morning corroboration of the alleged police killing of five people in Trou Macaque, Laventille, on Thursday night. The police claimed the five men, including two teenagers, were killed in an exchange of gunfire but eyewitnesses have offered a conflicting story.
Hours after the shooting, Rowley issued an official statement condemning the “misguided activity” of the young men.
His early morning statement, issued at 3.30 am, was criticised on social media as people questioned why the Prime Minister would make such a definitive statement without evidence or an investigation into the matter. At the time, his statements were based solely on the police account.
Asked about whether he was standing by his initial statement after the men’s families challenged the police account of what occurred, Rowley, in a text message exchange with Guardian Media, said, “My office issued an official statement at the first opportunity. The reason why I knew is because I am, as Prime Minister, chairman of the National Security Council. I am always at work, night or day.”
But residents who witnessed the incident just after 9 pm on Thursday claimed the group of young men were unarmed and playing cards when they were confronted by officers at the back of a house.
According to police reports, members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Strike Team killed five men during a shootout. Initial reports said just before 9 pm, the five men allegedly attempted to rob a resident while the IATF unit was on patrol in the area. The IATF challenged the men and a shootout occurred. All five men were hit and subsequently taken to hospital where they died. An officer was also hit during the alleged gunfight but his bulletproof vest saved his life.
Rowley’s statement condemned the loss of life but was critical of the “misguided activity” of the young men.
“The loss of any citizen’s life, through violence, is particularly traumatic for any family and community where it occurs. This emotion is multiplied many fold when young men arm themselves and engage law enforcement officers,” Rowley said.
“This misguided activity always has the potential to end in unspeakable tragedy for all involved, officers and civilians. Today’s news of five lives being lost during a firefight between law enforcement officers and civilians brings us to such a place.”
He added, “Once again I appeal to all our young men who see opportunity through the power of the illegal firearm, to think again and grasp the other opportunities which the country offers to all its citizens, rewards which are assured if we embrace our national watchwords of DISCIPLINE, PRODUCTION and TOLERANCE. There is no good end to bad deeds, bad company and a life of crime. Our country deserves better but to accomplish that goal we all have to want it and commit to work towards it. Law enforcement cannot do it alone.”