On Thursday, June 20th, my mother, sister and I left New York and landed in Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago around 2PM. Upon receiving my baggage, a verbal altercation began between myself, my mother and a customs officer at the airport’s exit. Such occurred due to the officer’s blatantly rude treatment.
Suddenly, a man ran up to me and grabbed me by the shoulder/neck area, hit me and shouted at me for “inappropriately speaking to a customs officer”. Everything happened so quickly, most things are a blur. But my mother, maternal instincts fully kicked in, screamed and cried and struggled to get me away from this man. She assumed he was a robber or some sort of madman. Later on we learned that this man was a plain clothes officer. Please note, this man ran up to me from behind, so I hadn’t seen his face and he did not identify himself/have his badge visible so no one could tell he was a person of authority. There were several witnesses who all thought this officer was a crazy person randomly abusing an innocent girl.
Rewinding a bit, as the violence occurred, my sister and my mother (both involved) were inappropriately grabbed by other male officers, and I was taken away by the arms, by another plain clothes officer, who screamed in my face “what right do you have to talk to a man that way?”. I was then handed over to a female officer and I asked her if she saw what happened. I continuously screamed out, “He hit me”, “I can’t believe a man just hit me”. She sympathized and consoled me until I was able to calm down. (Later on she denied having witnessed anything) I was put to the side and couldn’t see what situation my mother and my sister were left in. But the entire airport was at a standstill and I was able to hear their screams and cries.
A higher officer (also female) ordered for the three of us to be brought into a room, where we were all told that we were to remain seated for further questioning on how this all transpired. We were detained for the following 8 hours, put under investigation from higher officials. We explained everything that occurred, that it began as such a mere misunderstanding, and we thought the worst was over.
At about 10PM, we were brought in individually for details to complete a full profile on us (addresses, physical measurements, occupations, the works). At this point we were told (separately) that we were under arrest for the assault of 3 on-duty officers. The officer who shamelessly physically abused me, was asked for a statement and was let go. No penalty for his actions. We were taken out of the airport in front of the public, in handcuffs, surrounded by guards. We were placed in a police station, where finger prints were taken and all personal items were taken.
We were then driven to the Arouca Police Station, where we were held in a holding cell. We begged them to keep us together in one cell. And for the entire rest of the night into the middle of the next morning (Friday, the 21st), we were kept behind bars, in a room full of fecal matter, urine, leftover food particles. We were talked to like animals and taunted by the prisoners in the neighboring room. We were the only women there, innocently arrested and held among other accused.
Around 10AM Friday morning, we were brought to the Arima Magistrates Courthouse where we told that the charges being brought against us are punishable with a prison sentencing of 6 months and fines for each charge totaling $13,500 (TT dollars) altogether.
Our court date is set for July 19th and we are not allowed to leave this country until then. The prosecutor asked that we be kept in federal prison, in separate wards, until our trial date and be considered flight risks. The judge thankfully offered us bail instead, but in exchange for our passports. We are currently at a relative’s home, on $65,000 (TT dollars) bail each. We were kept in another holding cell, with other people awaiting their change to face the judge until our relatives were able to sign bail. When we were released to our relatives around 4PM, it was the first time we saw the outside world in 27 hours.
Our father and brothers are at home, worried sick. I am sure they never thought this is what they’d be hearing on our first phone call after landing. There was something about seeing my mother and sister, in handcuffs that just broke me down. Every time I close my eyes, it’s just flashing back to that moment where we were brought in to see one another, in handcuffs. I’d never even gotten a ticket before or had been disciplined by a school teacher, much less get in trouble with the law in any way. We are a college-educated, average, productive middle class family living in New York. We feel sub-human. We feel so degraded and so embarrassed. We were taken to a doctor because we felt so ill, physically and mentally. My mother suffers from high blood pressure and my sister has asthma (both were initially denied their medical treatments while we were in the holding cell).
I still think I’m dreaming. I am ashamed that something like this could occur in 2013; where a man can hit a woman and not only get away with it, but reverse the situation and charge that woman with a federal offense and align two other officers to join him in his charges. I am ashamed that one of the higher officers was a woman and as a woman let our story go through one ear and out the other, when they came to their decision to put us under arrest. As I described getting hit by the officer and as my mother described from the perspective of a mother seeing her child in harm, and as my sister, a 19 year old girl, described not understanding how any of this transpired and how scared she was, there was no sympathy. There was no console. We were given treatment no different from a rapist or a burglar, a murderer, a drug smuggler. We were merely tourists, here for the first time, for 4 days, to attend a relative’s wedding.
In 2013, we are still dealing with those who are supposed to stand by the law and protect the earth’s citizens, abusing their power and subject the innocent to the highest level of degradation and injustice. We are terrified, because we have no idea which way the law will sway. And in the meantime, we are away from our family, away from work and school. We are scraping our last dollars together to get the best lawyer and try to get by the basic cost of living, in a land we don’t belong in. This is a country where tourism is a portion of the nation’s income, yet tourists are clearly not valued, even just enough to answer a simple question. I don’t know how we will get through all of this, emotionally, financially and mentally. But I believe the world needs to know that these experiences are real and they often go unreported.
We are taking it one step at a time, one day at a time. And we are asking that you please keep us in your prayers.