Haitian police rebels protest gang killings of officers

National police control security on a street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. One of Haiti's gangs stormed a key part of the capital, Port-Au-Prince, and battled with police throughout the day, leaving at least three officers dead and another missing. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
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The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Disgruntled rebel police officers roared through the streets of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince on Thursday, blocking roads and shooting guns into the air to protest a slew of killings of police officers by Haitian gangs.

Gangs have killed at least 10 officers in the past week; another is missing and one more has severe bullet wounds, according to the Haitian National Police.

A video obtained by The Associated Press and acknowledged by police on Thursday –- likely recorded by gangs -– shows the naked and bloodied bodies of six officers stretched out on the dirt, their guns laying on their chests. The gang who killed them, known as Gan Grif, still has the bodies, police said.

The killings are just the latest example of escalating violence in the Caribbean nation, which has been gripped by gang wars and political chaos following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. His unelected successor has asked the United Nations to lead a military intervention, but no country has been willing to put boots on the ground.

The deaths enraged members of Fantom 509, an armed group of current and former police officers that has violently demanded better conditions for officers.

Dozens of these men wove through city on Thursday, many wearing hoods along with police uniforms, flak jackets and rifles and automatic weapons. They seized buses to blockade roads and torched tires across the city, leaving smoke plummeting through the streets.

Many demanded tougher crackdowns on the gangs, and called for the end to the current government of Ariel Henry, which many Haitians view as illegitimate. At one point, demonstrators broke down one of the gates outside Henry’s home.

“If they are killing police officers, me as a citizen, what should I do?” one protester in a mask screamed into an Associated Press camera. “The police are second only to God and we’re going to stand behind them.”

A video recorded by local Haitian media shows empty streets and closed businesses on a key road of Port-au-Prince where the rebel group passed through.

In addition to the bodies displayed by the gang, a number of officers were killed last week in a firefight with gangs in a neighborhood that was once considered relatively safe.

The Haitian National Police expressed condolences to the slain officers’ families and colleagues, and said it’s “calling for peace and invites police officers to come together to bring forward an institutional response to the different criminal organizations that terrorize the Haitian people.”

The United Nations estimates that 60% of Port-au-Prince is controlled by the gangs. On the streets of the capital, Haitians say it’s more like 100%.

This week, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti urged the American and Canadian governments to lead an international armed force to help Haiti combat the gangs. Haitian police, meanwhile, are pleading for more resources.

The demonstrators carried on to the city airport, where Henry was scheduled to hold a press conference before cancelling. Some on the streets said they will only continue to protest.

“The movement will continue, we can’t let police get killed like this,” said one masked man in a police uniform carrying a pistol who did not want to be identified. “We can do the job if they give us ammunition.”