The political operatives parading as police officers in St Vincent and the Grenadines, did the very thing they tried to stop this week – bringing some much needed regional and international spotlight on what’s happening there.
Since my detention on, well, what they described as “suspicion of obstruction” the many media outlets throughout the Caribbean and North America have been asking me “what’s really going on in St Vincent?”
It is ironic that the man who said “take him away” was the officer, who I was told his name is Christopher Benjamin and who I have noticed has been described since in one social media post as “Ralph’s enforcer.”
(In the late 1970s, Eric Gairy in Grenada had one of them; a hated police officer called Innocent Belmar; who once ordered officers to search the lunch container of my bigger brother on his way to school, putting their bare hands through his food saying they were looking for guns because he was the son of New Jewel Movement people).
The first time I noticed Benjamin (assuming that is his name), was the day after the elections at the Government House. He was in plainclothes – and I was not even sure he was an officer then.
In fact, I was not sure who he was at all, but just had a creepy feeling about him.
He was on the other side of the police line pacing up and down behind the riot police staring down the protesters. He was visibly upset that the officers were not using force against the demonstrators.
There was an SSU-clad officer with a bullhorn who was trying his best to calm the situation and to ensure there was no violent clash. At one point he called aside three operatives of the opposition including candidate Noel Dixon to “negotiate and arrangement” that will keep the peace while respecting people’s right to demonstrate.
Benjamin did not like that idea. He walked away, grumbling and rumbling – openly upset that there was a “discussion.” He called another officer in regular uniform and was complaining bitterly about the approach.
I later saw Benjamin around the swearing in ceremony at the Governor General’s office – still in plainclothes; hobnobbing. He was obviously a well-connected man. I took a mental note of him again.
(BTW walking away from the GG’s house that night, I encountered the other officer who earlier had the bullhorn. I stretched out my hands and shook his. I told him “you’re a good man and a proud Vincentian. I was impressed with you today.” With which he replied, ‘thank you’).
The next time I noticed Benjamin again was the day of the protest when parliament opened, at the Central Police Station in Kingstown.
Like outside the GG’s residence, he appeared on the scene in plainclothes as the crowd was gathering outside of the station soon after Ben Exeter, the opposition figure was arrested.
He was agitated; directing officers; berating them for not being aggressive and assertive enough; for – and I overheard that – “taking too much nonsense.” (Whatever that meant).
My eyes were stuck on him for a bit. For a couple of brief moments, we stared at each other. I made another mental of him again. And I suspected that day, if not before, he also made one of me.
The first time I saw Benjamin actually in uniform was days later at one of the protests outside of the Electoral Commission’s office.
There he was with his baton, as if ready to direct the traffic of state harassment, on thankfully unwilling proud Vincentian officers unwilling to bring uncalled for repression on people they obviously grew up with and knew.
There our eyes met again. I could not keep my eyes off him, even while filming. He was steering me down too. I was watching him. In fact, I wanted him to notice that I was watching him.
On this past Wednesday, I had heard of police moving in and arresting a few demonstrators. I had missed those images.
But was hanging around the area, when Benjamin again showed up with a few officers. He ordered them to take away a woman dressed in an opposition t-shirt who did not seem to be doing anything other than leaning up on a vehicle.
I captured those and posted it online and sent it to a number of regional television stations.
Corporal Benjamin was obviously not pleased. He can be seen on camera ordering me to move.
During Thursday’s demonstrations, Corporal Benjamin showed up just after lunch, and immediately called most of the officers away from the face-down with the demonstrators. I was not trusting that – wondering if it was a tactical retreat or such.
Only for moments later a truckload of riot police landed on the scene. I quickly turned the camera on the approaching truckload.
But I kept looking at Benjamin on the corner of my eyes. I knew he was looking at me.
As I was about to cross the street, moving away from the demonstrators to get a better angle of the police disembarking the truck with their gear, I saw Benjamin rushing towards me, even as I kept walking away.
Then I heard him telling the officers – pointing that now infamous baton of state harassment at me – to “take him away.”
One officer grabbed me by the hand, another by the waist, saying “let’s go.”
As the two officers were walking me to the police station, I apologised to them for being made to follow the orders of a man increasingly to me, was not fit to be leading proud Vincentian officers who were just wanting to do a professional job and to genuinely “protect and serve” their Vincentian brothers and sisters.
I knew they were embarrassed; and I felt genuinely sorry for them.
I have no doubt in my mind that Benjamin – and I am sure they are others in that force — is more willing to uphold the power of the status quo, rather than the law. But zealots like these end up bringing embarrassment to the very status quo that they believe they are faithfully working to protect.
For now, mark the name of that officer down. I just have a feeling we will hear about him again.
I have a feeling, I will also see him again.
I have seen them in the Burnham days in Guyana. I have seen them in the Gairy days in Grenada.
Political thugs like that parading in police uniform don’t go away easily.