Opposition Member of Parliament for Moruga/Tableland Michelle Benjamin is facing heavy criticism over her involvement in the fiery protests in her constituency yesterday, after she was seen instructing another person to place a tyre in the road close to burning debris.
An exchange between Benjamin and a police officer at the scene of the protest, close to a landslip along the Hindustan Estate Road, near New Grant, was captured on video by a Guardian Media team.
The conduct of the officer is also now being scrutinised.
In the video, Benjamin attempts to remove one of several tyres from the tray of a pickup but the officer initially cautions her against it.
“For your own benefit, don’t do it. I would assist having your little gathering, well not gathering, please social distancing everybody,” the officer said.
Benjamin replies, “I need one tyre there, just one.”
The officer, in turn, pointed out that there was already one tyre in the road.
“No, I just need right there,” Benjamin interjected.
The officer then asked, “You want to put one in the road, not on the fire?”
The officer told her he did not want her to put out the tyre and instead, she asked a man to take the tyre off the van.
“Not on the fire eh,” the officer advised as the man removed the tyre.
Moruga/Tableland MP Michelle Benjamin, speak with police officers yesterday during a protest as residents burn debris over the bad road and poor water supply at Hindustan Estate Road, New Grant.
As the man did so, Benjamin instructed, “Just drop one on the fire there.”
The officer again advised that the tyre not be placed on the fire and Benjamin instead instructed, “Close to the fire.”
The man then carried the tyre to where debris was blocking the road, as the officer said, “Right there good...right there good son.”
The officer continued: “Miss Benjamin, you go ahead there now...as I said, social distancing, people please.”
In an interview with Guardian Media hours after the incident, as the public reacted to the video and story on Guardian Media’s sites, Benjamin claimed the video was taken out of context.
She said while she was trying to assist her protesting constituents, she was not orchestrating the protest.
“The protest in Hindustan this morning was not organised by me. I arrived on-site and members of my constituency were present. I think I got a phone call and then I saw the police officer trying to intimidate the owner of the said vehicle. You would have seen in that video clip, in the sense that they were taking snapshots of their driver’s permit and what have you. And me being the Member of Parliament, I sought to put myself in between the situation, should someone be arrested. I would put myself in that situation, being that I stand in solidarity with my constituents.”
Angry residents of Rochard Douglas Road in Barrackpore burn debris during a protest yesterday.
Complaining that every square foot of the roads in the Hindustan Estate Road community are bad, she said there are about ten landslips, one of which occurred just two months ago and a truck heading to a large egg farm flipped in it.
“I put myself in harm’s way for him and I actually wanted to highlight that landslip, and if something is not done immediately, those constituents would not be able to go to their homes,” she said, adding that the road also leads to the Devil’s Woodyard.
“I know to some it may seem ridiculous, but as the song says who feels it know it. I feel for my constituents and if they want to protest every Monday morning, every Tuesday morning, I will be there because I live in the constituency and I see what they have to go through on a daily basis.”
She added, “We are fed up. We pay taxes and our roadway do not reflect that. They spend a lot of money. Where is it going? Is it in their friends and family pocket and quote me on this, because the kind of contracts that are being awarded and our roadway still don’t reflect it. So something is wrong and we have to stand up, is no longer times for pretty politics and pretty words.”
A senior police officer said they are now looking at all aspects of the protests, including those at Hindustan. He added that the conduct of the officer in the video is also under scrutiny.
Armed police officers remove tires from Rochard Douglas Road, Barrackpore, following residents protest over poor road conditions and poor water yesterday.
The video also caught the attention of Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, who told Guardian Media, “The ministry and the country should never condone this display of incitement to vulnerable citizens from any legislator.”