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Trinidad & Tobago: Attacked Whilst Eating Fast Food

On the morning of Wednesday, September 20, 2012, businessman Gregory Wight was attacked while he was patronizing a doubles stand outside the Brooklyn Bar in Woodbrook, Port of Spain (doubles are a common street food sandwich).

According to Wight, he asked Shane Aleong, who had also stopped to purchase the snack, to switch off his vehicle as the exhaust fumes were disturbing the other customers. After Aleong refused to accede to Wight's request there was apparently an exchange of words, at which point Aleong allegedly retrieved a cutlass knife from his vehicle and proceeded to ‘planass‘ Wight (strike him with the flat side), in full view of the vendor and customers.

The incident was captured by a surveillance camera and quickly spread via social media (1 minute 18 seconds for the actual attack):

After a few days of speculation, it was confirmed that Aleong was the son of Education Minister, Tim Goopeesingh. (Incidentally, Gregory Wight is a member of the Congress of the People, part of the Peoples Partnership government Goopeesingh serves in.) After a few days, Aleong turned himself in to the police and was charged.

Aleong appeared at the Port of Spain magistrates court on October 2, where he pleaded not guilty to the three charges of possession of a weapon, assault and using obscene language. He was granted bail in the sum of TT$ 25,000 or a cash alternative of TT$ 10,000. Aleong was unable to make bail and spent Tuesday night in the prison infirmary. He was successfully bailed and released the following day.

There are reports that Aleong reacted so strongly because Wight had referred to him as a “gutter coolie”, a slur directed at persons of East Indian descent. Wight claims he only referred to him as “being from the gutter.”

Widespread condemnation

The incident was vehemently condemned on social media, with many bloggers using this as a platform to discuss other issues in Trinidadian society. While Philip Edward Alexander believed Aleong was clearly in the wrong, he may have been provoked:

In Gregory Wight and all the witnesses own words after, the boy (while plannassing him) asked him twice to apologize. Why? Why apologize? For what? What did he want this elder statesman to apologize for? For the word gutter as Gregory said? For daring to breathe in his space? For eating doubles?

He also explored the possible role of ethnic resentment in this incident:

 In this country many people of color still see white people as oppressors and while we are living in more enlightened and changing times where race relations are concerned, we are also living in highly violent times and no one should be taking liberties with anyone, especially with something as potentially volatile as race and class.

Alexander began a followup post by sharing some wisdom he once received:

Someone once told me that ‘personal responsibility’ lies at the heart of every wrong in our society and that until we as a people understood that concept and embraced it we would always find it difficult to undo the negatives that plagues us simply because they all shared the common bed of personal choice in the moment, and not only did I absolutely agree, I have been quoting him on that ever since.

Alexander then went on to reiterate his point that Wight, the older and more mature person, should have backed down instead of causing the conflict to escalate:

Gregory Wight, the very person whom I quoted above as having taught me the power of personal responsibility is no less culpable here, and, as the more mature and demonstrably sensible person he ought to have known better and quit after he made his point. Instead he animatedly goaded and harangued young Aleong/Gopeesingh for more than forty seconds as is clear to see in the video which led to the escalation, and, up to that point, Gregory Wight was behaving like a bully and he ought to be ashamed. This may well end up being judged on the merits of who was more wrong, but don't be fooled  for a second that either party was right.

TNT Monitor called for the government minister to be fired:

Whoever the minister is, he should be fired. Not because he was involved in the incident but for having created and nurtured the criminal degenerate he has for a son. Incidents like this make me wonder what type of people we have in the Government. What does it say about the father when the son has no respect for or fear of the law, no respect or compassion for elderly people, that he feels absolutely nothing is wrong in hitting and humiliating someone simply for correcting him.

Jumbie's Watch didn't know how to react to the video of the attack:

I am at a loss for words.

The Eternal Pantomime says she needs more evidence to reach the conclusion that Wight used a racial slur to refer to Aleong:

It tells you something about the malaise here that after all this time, and all the assertions that we are a rainbow nation, and all “o” we is one; that one member of this country can’t disagree with another member of this country and it not boil down to race. Wight’s complaint about diesel fumes while eating his doubles became a “massa vs labourer” issue why? Because of deeply ingrained insecurities, maybe. And then you have people irresponsibly writing and saying that Wight called Aleong a “gutter coolie”. Where’s the evidence of that? I don’t want to call anyone a liar, but the video doesn’t support it, and until there is evidence that Aleong responded to a racist slur, what the entire world see is an overweight, unkempt young man pouring out his rage on an elderly gentleman.

She also questioned why it took the police so long to handle the matter and related a personal story:

I’ve been on the receiving end of the thing called police service here. I’ve been robbed several times and kind citizens have helped me retrieve my items.The last robbery occurred in the middle of the State of Emergency last year that was used as a crime solving tool. I was on the Avenue at 7pm, not a police officer or patrol in sight….because they had no patrol vehicles….and my Blackberry was stolen. I made a report, they sent me to the Cyber Crime Unit. When I got to where Cyber Crime was alleged to be housed I was told that they don’t have a Cyber Crime Unit. I went home and using the software available to me located my phone. I told the police where the phone was located. they told me they couldn’t go and retrieve it.

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