Linden Commission of Inquiry…Trade unionist defends blocking of bridge
By Michael Jordan
Veteran trade unionist Lincoln Lewis said yesterday that he stood behind a minibus and saw police ranks shooting directly at civilians gathered near the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge on July 18 – the day that three Lindeners were killed.
Lewis also stated that he saw one rank pointing a ‘long gun’ at a civilian and heard another rank repeatedly shouting to his armed colleague: “Don’t shoot that man.”
The trade unionist was adamant that none of the ranks were shooting at the ground, as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Patrick Todd had testified some days ago.
But while he recalled seeing former E&F Division Commander Clifton Hicken and ASP Todd at the scene of the protest, Lewis said that he did not recognize any of the policemen who were firing. He also stated that he twice saw Commander Hicken toting a ‘shiny’ object, which Lewis believed to be a handgun, wrapped up in newspaper.
The fiery trade unionist then had to face an intense two-hour period of questioning from attorney-at-law Peter Hugh, who is representing the Guyana Police Force, and further grilling some members of the Commission.
Hugh suggested that Lewis did not see Hicken with any object, and that the trade unionist could not have seen any of the ranks firing at the crowd, given the distance he was from the ranks and the fact that the light was fading.
During sometimes testy exchanges, Lewis was also made to view recorded footage of himself speaking to the crowd on July 12 and telling the gathering not to move from the bridge. In addition, the 64-year-old Lewis was asked both by the Commission jurists, and by Hugh, whether the blocking of the Wismar/Mackenzie Bridge was not a violation of the rights of others who had wanted to pass.
Lewis took the stand after two Lindeners also told the commission that they were shot by police. Blue Berry Hill building contractor, Hugh Stephens, stated that he was shot in the right eye by a police rank and that the injury has now rendered him blind in the injured eye.
The other civilian, tyre shop employee Orin Cameron, recounted losing consciousness after being shot in the stomach and right shoulder. But like Lewis, both men said they were unable to identify the ranks who were shooting.
Speaking to the Commission, Lewis testified that he had been invited to participate in the July 18 ‘rally’, which was in response to the raising of the electricity tariffs in the bauxite mining community.
He said that there were about 3,000-plus people gathered there. He explained that the bridge was seen as a meeting point.
He said he consulted with the president of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union Mr. Gonsalves, who told him that the meeting on the bridge took place and before the people could move, the Commander came and threatened to shoot and people became annoyed.
Lewis asserted that he had expected the gathering to be at the Guyana Stores building, where the rally was supposed to be held. He said that the police arrived before lunch.
He told the commissioners that police lined up and the people on Mackenzie shore came behind them. According to Lewis, some of the people were stating that they wanted their rights to be respected.
“And was this right the right to remain on the bridge?” Commission jurist K.D. Knights asked.
“Yes, in the circumstances,” Lewis replied.
According to Lewis, he advised Region Ten Chairman Sharma Solomon to go to the Wismar shore.
But he said that around 18:00 hrs, immediately after arriving on the western shore, he heard gunshots. He said that some seven to ten minutes after arriving in the area the lights went off.
Lewis said that after hearing the shots, he left the bridge and walked to Casuarina Drive. He said when he got to the corner of Casuarina Drive, just before the hospital, he saw Commander Hicken and about five other police ranks. One policeman dressed in the uniform of a traffic rank and Hicken in khaki uniform. Others were clad in dark-blue trousers and light-blue shorts.
Lewis later testified that Commander Hicken , whom he knew, was clutching an object which was wrapped in a newspaper. According to Lewis, a section of the object, which he described as being ‘shiny’ was protruding from the newspaper and that it appeared to be the muzzle of a handgun. He also claimed that at one point Hicken walked behind him while clutching the wrapped-up object.
Lewis testified that he returned to the bridge and saw a squad facing the bridge and another squad facing east.
The trade unionist told the Commission that he stood behind a parked minibus and observed ASP Todd, who was in charge of the squad at the front. Todd, he said, who was standing some 35 feet away and dressed in khaki, was holding a loud hailer and ordering the protestors to clear the bridge. However, the crowd remained on the bridge. Lewis said that he could not recall hearing Hicken issue the order in the name of President Ramotar.
According to Lewis, it was then that police ranks, whom he did not recognize, fired teargas for the second time. He said that they had fired teargas on the Wismar shore, and he returned to the Mackenzie shore.
“DON’T SHOOT THAT MAN”
“After the teargas I heard a man shout ‘somebody get shoot…alyuh stop shooting,’ and then I saw a man being lifted by two men and a woman…and then …I heard somebody say the man is dead.”
Lewis said that still standing behind the bus, he then observed a policeman on the north-eastern side of the bridge turn to shoot a civilian near the Linden Secretariat compound “and a rank in khaki uniform said four or five times to him “Don’t shoot that man.”
According to Lewis, he heard several gunshots and teargas was also fired in the direction of the bridge. He said that the police moved towards the bridge where they continued firing.
The trade unionist alleged that he heard persons shouting again that another man had been shot and pleading for the police to stop shooting. He said that he then saw civilians bearing the wounded man from the Mackenzie section of the bridge to the hospital.
Questioned by Mr. K. D. Knight, Lewis insisted that none of the ranks shot towards the ground or into the air. Again, he said that he could not identify any of the shooting ranks.
He testified that he then observed a truck on fire near Casuarina Drive, also recalling that there was a power outage in the area.
Lewis said that he then drove away from the location.
Questioned by Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, the trade unionist, who said he had lived in Linden “for the cream of his life”, recounted that in 1969, protesting Lindeners had blocked the Wismar/Mackenzie Bridge for a fortnight. He said that a similar protest was held at the bridge in 2004, but both matters were resolved.
Lewis said that the second incident was resolved after former President Bharrat Jagdeo visited Linden.
It was after this that the trade unionist was questioned extensively by members of the Commission and attorney-at-law Peter Hugh regarding his statement about seeing Commander Hicken with what appeared to be a firearm wrapped in newspaper.
However, Lewis stuck to his story, stating that about “two-and-a-half inches” of the ‘shiny object’ was protruding from the newspaper. Commissioner Cecil Kennard also queried whether Lewis could have observed the object although night had fallen.
Attorney-at-Law Peter Hugh also questioned Lewis about statements where he had told the crowd “we have to be prepared”.
A video recording was then played of Lewis speaking to a crowd and telling the protestors “we ain’t moving.”
“Yes, I told them that, and if the circumstances present themselves again I would tell them not to move,” Lewis responded to Hugh.