Haitian police rioted in the capital of Port-au-Prince on Thursday, blocking streets, burning tires, vandalizing vehicles, and attacking the residence of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
The police were enraged that gangs have killed 14 officers over the past month, raising the death toll to 78 since Henry became prime minister in 2021.
The demonstration began with about a hundred police officers in plain clothes and a comparable number of civilians marching through the streets of Port-au-Prince to denounce the latest police killings: the execution-style slaying of six officers by a gang called Gan Grif in northern Haiti.
The gang posted a social media video of the slain officers lying in the dirt with their weapons lying on their chests and is reportedly still in possession of the corpses. The video included footage of Gan Grif members using the severed hands and feet of the murdered police officers to smoke cigarettes.
Both police and civilian demonstrators on Thursday favored black T-shirts with the word “POLICE” written in white letters. Members of Fantom 509, a militant group of armed current and former Haitian police, who bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a gang itself, also participated while clad in flak jackets and brandishing guns.
The demonstrators marched to Henry’s residence but found he was not at home, so they went to the Port-au-Prince airport, where Henry was returning from a summit in Argentina. The demonstrators became enraged and smashed windows at the airport when Henry slipped away without talking to them.
“At the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, burning tires blocked the entrance. Inside, Henry had deplaned and was in the diplomatic lounge, preparing to deliver a speech, when the police protesters stormed the room. The prime minister’s security detail took him to safety,” Voice of America News (VOA) reported.
Reuters quoted eyewitnesses who heard gunfire from the area around Henry’s residence as the demonstration grew larger and more violent. Protesters blocked roads in Port-au-Prince and several other cities, prompting schools and businesses to shut down.
Rioting police seized the vehicle and weapons of the Bahamian charge d’affaires in Port-au-Prince, prompting the Bahamas to order all of its citizens to leave Haiti as quickly as possible.
“A group of U.S. government officials were visiting Haiti at the time, and a U.S. State Department spokesperson said all Washington’s personnel were accounted for and they had moved some meetings as a precaution,” Reuters reported.
The U.S. embassy in Haiti offered condolences to the families of slain police officers on Thursday while calling for “calm to safeguard the population and allow for a peaceful mourning period.”
Protesters blamed the wave of police killings on Henry, accusing him of failing to support the police with sufficient money, equipment, and manpower while gangs take over most of Haiti.
“We need a revolution! We are in the streets to fight for our brothers and sisters who are victims of the bandits. We have to take to the streets every day to get what we want!” a protester shouted to an Associated Press (AP) camera team.
“The movement will continue, we can’t let police get killed like this. We can do the job if they give us ammunition,” a pistol-wielding masked man in a police uniform told the AP.
“We sympathize with the protesters as well as the families of the fallen officers. We are upset because many police officials are linked to gangs, so they stand by and don’t say anything. Very often, the police officials don’t take responsibility, and we think that needs to change,” a uniformed police officer on the streets of Port-au-Prince told VOA.
Another officer who spoke to VOA suggested the police guarding Henry should abandon their posts to join the protests, reasoning that nothing less would inspire Henry to finally address the problem of gang violence.
A Haitian human rights group called RNDDH (Reseau National de Defense des Droits Humains in French, or “National Human Rights Defense Network”) issued a statement holding Henry and national police chief Franz Elbe “responsible for each of the 78 lives lost during their reign.”
“History will remember that they have never done anything to protect and preserve the lives of these agents who have chosen to serve their country,” the statement said of Henry and Elbe.
RNDDH said police officers have been “neglected by state authorities” even as they became “the preferred target of armed bandits.”
Worse, the group accused Henry’s government of deliberately accelerating gang violence against both police and civilians in a “macabre plan” to squeeze more foreign aid from the international community, including a multinational military force to suppress the gangs, as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested this week.
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