Brawl erupts at T&T programme for jobless

(Trinidad Express) A violent fracas broke out yesterday among alleged rival gang members and new participants of the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) Colour Me Orange project.

The incident occurred in the car park of the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, Port of Spain, a few minutes after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar told the media inside the project would help reduce crime.

About five men were involved, and a number of large stones were thrown, with all but one of the men managing to escape. The 19-year-old suspect, wearing the project’s bright orange T-shirt, was quickly held by four members of the Guard and Emergency Branch after a brief struggle.

A number of other Colour Me Orange participants who passed by to look at the handcuffed suspect were told by the police to keep moving.

“Big men like allyuh come looking for work and looking for fight?” commented one female participant.

A male participant said of the incident, “Allyuh shame meh,” and another female participant taunted the suspect that he was an “abomination to black people”.

He was later taken to the Belmont Police Station and charged with throwing missiles, with the possibility of other charges.

At least one vehicle, a gold Toyota Hilux, was apparently damaged by the stone-throwing. A stream of hissing air emanated from the bonnet.

HDC managing director Jearlean John, earlier in her address, stressed discipline to her “orange people”. She recalled that one young man told her if he did not get a job, he will be returning to jail, and she had to discourage him against that.

She stressed that only those unemployed can sign up for the programme—if you are discovered to be working elsewhere, you will be removed—and participants must be punctual and regular.

“In this programme is one strike and you’re out. Not three,” she said.

Participants in the project perform refurbishment and repair work at HDC sites in which they live, around the country. The current third phase is for a three-month period, with about 2,000 participants.

Police blocked off George Street yesterday due to the large number of applicants outside the HDC offices.

Speaking later with the Express following the incident and via telephone, John said the heavy presence of police and members of the Defence Force was because a small percentage of the HDC rental community are “given” to deviant behaviour.

“There are a lot of good and genuine people who want a break and a job and want to do better, and those who out to do mischief,” she added.

John said it was not the first time there was this type of indiscipline, which results in people being immediately removed, and last year, the entire programme in Port of Spain was shut down due to this behaviour. That decision had resulted in protests and cries of discrimination outside the HDC offices.

John said she was not “disheartened” by the incident yesterday as “this is life”, and HDC officials were aware it was a possibility, though she was disappointed.

She stressed there is order, discipline and strict guidelines in the project, and she laid out specifically the pay cycle to avoid people “making noise” about their payments. She said the other participants view the perpetrators as “stumbling blocks” attempting to tarnish the project.

“We can’t crumple up and turn tail and run now. We have to stand firm,” she added.

John noted the police would be providing a report on the incident, and anyone found to be involved would be dismissed from the project.


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