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Apr 24, 2002

Benque riot: 2 protestors shot, 27 cops injured

Story Picture
It seemed eerily similar to last year’s riot at the Tower Hill Bridge: protestors throwing rocks, police responding with teargas and bullets and amidst the confusion, the original purpose of the demonstration all but forgotten. Tonight News 5 has assembled video shot by our cameraman Brent Toombs, supplemented by footage from Cayo Cable Vision’s Kent Pandy and Sam Wagner of the Government Press Office. With me in the studio is reporter Janelle Chanona helping to put today’s events in perspective.

Janelle Chanona

“Thanks Ava. Let me first set up the scene as to what was happening today. This morning several people in Benque were given permission to legally assembly on certain key streets in Benque Viejo del Carmen to protest the recent bus fares. They started doing that, but along the way certain people decided to stop off at one street and that’s when things sort of got out of control. So we began now with scenes of students being arrested. Several students from several different high schools were detained by police, we don’t know how many of them.”

Ava Lovell

“Janelle do you know why these students were…”

Janelle Chanona

“Presumably because they were acting out of order. There were also several civilians being detained. The police have not released exactly how many people were arrested. Now this, part of the story doesn’t end here because at this point when people start realising what the police is doing, the focus shifts from complaining about the bus fares to how the police respond to them.”

“We’re not sure exactly what triggered off this particular teargas incident, but something did, and this man said that his children and his brother were affected severely by the gas.”

Man

“It’s teargas weh they just throw here and my kids were suffocating. They throw three, you can see it by the pipe, three of them…, my brother, he can’t walk, and he was suffocating in the house. So I think it’s an injustice, the police no have no kind of training or they no know what they are doing. They should better put some people who are educated and know what they are doing.”

Q: Are you going to take legal action?”

Man

“Well up to right now I don’t know, because my mother just died and we are still in grief, but we will try to see what’s going on.”

Q: Your kids have been hurt by this?”

Man

“Yes, see how my kids stand right now?”

Janelle Chanona

“Now this incident, this woman claims that several students tried to take refuge in her house and she explains what happened to her home.”

Woman

“They close down the whole house fi mek nobody get in, gone upstairs, broke in the doors, beat deh children weh mi deh in deh in the room too. Then they search in the drawers like if the students could fit pan deh lockers. See how they left in yah, how they mess up in yah. See how them do them things. We mi done make up beds everything. They searching for students under the bed.”

Janelle Chanona

“Now what’s happening now out in the streets several people have assembled all over the place. This was the police coming back from one confrontation, obviously they seem to have decided to retreat, despite showing signs of a battle. You see the policeman’s shield being broken, buy that have decided to retreat. The crowd is milling several different places. now if you watch carefully now at this piece of video, everybody has their backs turned to where the police is. But then look what happens right here, teargas. For no reason apparently, the police decide to teargas this crowd. Now as you can imagine, the people out in the street are getting really angry. They have decided to pick up stones, sticks, anything that they can get their hands on and begin to attack the police.”

“These are people suffering, that same teargas that was dropped off in the drain, the wind carried the teargas into the home. These people had to be carted away. We’ll see several people in a moment being loaded into a vehicle. These are all people suffering from teargas effects and they are being taken–where I’m not sure, but obviously for treatment.”

“Now these people are obviously upset at what’s been happening all morning. They have picked up the stones and they are attacking anybody. You’re gonna see in a few minutes the Mayor of Benque Viejo town Marconi Sosa, who is key I must mention in trying to placate this crowd and try to settle the crowd. There he is. He’s trying to go up, he gets hit as well by a stone. His constituents are really that angry that they are even attacking him. So his efforts fail.”

“They have put together a few tires, a car seat, lit it fire. Now before this, they were demanding that the students held earlier be released. Now that happened, but then they still didn’t disperse. they kept the stones in their hands and this is when they really start going after the police. They are attacking anybody. And I must mention that if anybody learned anything from Tower Hill, it was that the cameras can identify you if you’re doing something bad, so they are making a point of going after anybody with a camera, which is what’s happening here. And you can start hearing gunshots at this point. We’re not sure if anybody that was injured today was injured in this part of it, but obviously, there’s a lot of gunshots being heard there.

“We’re not sure where this is, this is all the Burn’s Avenue, St. Joseph Street, Church Street, Churchill area. There you can see several civilians, they’re being teargassed, but they’re still throwing stones making sure that they try to conceal their identities. And the police are still advancing, trying to get them under control with the teargas. It was actually quite eerie looking at this and seeing these masked men running through the bush. You hear the gunshots again, the crowd retreating.”

“Now the man (police officer) in the middle, he’s actually gonna start firing into the crowd in a few minutes. If you keep your eye on him, he’s going to be in the middle of the street and then there’s going to be another…there he is, moving forward, he lowers his gun, he’s gonna start firing. The stones keep coming…there he goes…now the man (police officer) against the fence also start firing…the gun jams. (Slow motion) Now the stones keep coming over the officer’s head and they’re firing. Now you see the officer drops back, he lowers his gun and fires from the waist.”

“Now we’ll go to another camera angle, another cameraman that was posted on the other end of the street now. this shows the police now after they’ve had that little shooting incident, they backup. Now they’re further down the street, the protesters have advanced, and they keep throwing stones at the police officers. There are several people in hats, but the guy at the front throwing stones, he’s actually going to get shot in his foot. See him there, he got shot and is carried away. Now the crowd gets a sense that the police are not playing the fool here and this whole incident leads to a stand off on Burns Avenue. The crowd assembled themselves at the Corner of Burns and St. Joseph Street and the police are now about seventy-five yards away at the Corner of Burns and Church Street, about thirty Dragon Unit officers, C.I.B., Major Crimes, they’re all staying put right there. They want the crowd to move, the police want the crowd to move.”

Marconi Sosa, Mayor

“Let us look at it beyond this, your officers are also at risk sir. We need a compromising position from the police to co-operate as much as the citizens are co-operating. Those are rowdy people, you know the police…”

Janelle Chanona

“Marconi Sosa tries at various points in the day to try to get this thing under control, but the police obviously are maintaining that they have a job to do.”

“Now the people are actually being watched by police..we hear what he says.”

Police Officer reporting through C.B. radio

“Man behind in the strongman shirt with the fade (low haircut) on his head…he dah one of the main instigator from the beginning.”

Janelle Chanona

“So they are making sure they know who’s doing what, because usually in a riot, there are certain key people who keep pushing it, and making sure they keep that up.

“Now this standoff is now several hours into the day. The crowd is feeling it, the police is feeling it. The crowd is saying they’re willing to leave.”

Marconi Sosa

“They are willing to disperse, they are willing to move and go home, provided that the police back off as well. If the police don’t move they will not go, because the situation has been now been double complicated. In the morning, it was a demonstration against Novelo’s. At the time the police hit someone on the leg and chest, which was already now police going at the civilian, it is now the civilians against the police.”

“These are bullets that were shot off from one of the cops. This is indeed a like round yet, see. That is clear evidence that the police have shot. We understand that they shoot in the air, but don’t tell me that they shoot in the air and catch someone’s leg because no one was flying. One in the chest and one in the leg? They have to had shot down. So now they need to compromise themselves…yes, the citizens have done wrong, but also the police have done wrong, you get my point? So they need to compromise as well. I think the head officer is actually compromising the rest of the police officers here because technically they’re outnumbered at this time.”

Janelle Chanona

“You think the people will get violent?”

Marconi Sosa

“Yes, believe me yes.”

Janelle Chanona

“Now if you notice in the middle there, Minister Dan Silva is trying to get his control over the crowd. But I don’t know if you can hear a distant drone, that’s actually a BDF Defender aircraft going over the crowd, that they don’t take to kindly to. (crowd sticks up their middle finger at plane).

“One thing lacking in our coverage is eyewitnesses. Nobody would talk to us, obviously for fear of being identified.”

Harth Gillett, CY Ritmo Reporter

“I heard buum! Now everybody was walking away when I heard buum. That’s the first teargas, followed by another sound buum again, and that’s the second teargas. Three teargas in a row hit a house that is on the corner of the new Benque Viejo Park. And what exactly happen is that the teargas start affecting kids that are like two years old, one year old and disabled persons that couldn’t walk; the minister himself was affected by the gas. That triggered everything because then we were walking away along with the crowd and the crowd was walking away talking to Mr. Silva when that triggered.”

“The shooting start after the riot squad decided to advance at the crowd. They run a block up, make a right turn and then start burning on the corner. When they start burning, it’s a seat from a van along with a tire along with some buckets. When they start burning the buckets they decided to come from where they are, walk down towards this location that we’re in. They start stoning because they saw like six or so officers that are not part of the riot squad standing in the area. They start stoning at that officer, in that direction of the officers, when the officers decide to shoot back in retaliation to the stoning in their direction. That’s what I saw. I saw when the guy was shot in the chest. All I saw it thuup and the gush of blood spurting from the back of the person. It was about a dollar coin the hole that entered, and the back was open about this big, some three inches in diameter.”

Janelle Chanona

“Did you see who fired the shot or who was shooting?”

Harth Gillett

“I saw Officer Flores with his down, bent in the shooting position. That’s what I saw.”

Janelle Chanona

“He was down below the crowd?”

Harth Gillett

“He has his knee bent in what…in the shooting position when you go down and bend your knee and one knee touching the ground and the other one…and that’s the position that he was in shooting.”

Janelle Chanona

“He’s a police officer?”

Harth Gillett

“Yes, Corporal Flores, I recognise him, I know him.”

Janelle Chanona

“He was definitely not shooting up into the air?”

Harth Gillett

“I didn’t see the shots going up in the air, I saw them coming in my direction. I was also in the line of fire, I took cover and end up hiding behind a school, so I saw that with my own eyes.”

Janelle Chanona

“That was a member of press describing what he saw. This is the student that we’ve been told was injured today, sixteen year old Marco Sanchez. He is listed as stabled but critical at the Belmopan Hospital in the intensive care unit. Two other people were also shot today, Amelio Gamez and another still unidentified man, but we were told that he is receiving treatment in Melchor. The police and BDF are also reporting that as many as twenty-seven of their personnel was injured today, one seriously, requiring several stitches in the back of his head. Several pieces of the equipment, windshields and a light were also damaged today in their confrontation with the rioters.”


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Benque riot: 2 protestors shot, 27 cops injured”

  1. kendrick says:

    what happened to the video,i want to see the video. where can i view the video

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