That Commission of Inquiry has exposed many shortcomings

October 28, 2012 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, My Column 

On July 18 three people were shot and killed in Linden. Immediately, President Donald Ramotar announced that he was going to launch an independent investigation into the shooting. The result is a Commission of Inquiry that features jurists from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and our own Guyana.
This Commission has been grabbing national attention, not because of the fact that some interesting revelations have been made, but because of the shortcomings of the Guyana Police Force. Indeed it has been some time that the force has been in decline, and this is causing me to wonder whether the replacements for those who actually set the high standards that the force once had actually passed on the tradition.
For example, I heard out of the Commission that recordkeeping was at the whim and fancy of the person responsible for the records. There was this policeman who uplifted a shotgun and kept it for six days. However, the records revealed that he had returned the weapon when he still had it in his possession.
The policeman was honest, but one can imagine the implications. That could have been one more weapon that would have disappeared from the armoury and when it was discovered, the police would have been looking at some innocent people.
The logical thing to do would be to prosecute the rank who lied about the entry, either departmentally or criminally, but this is not going to be done. That is going to be swept under the rug. Then we hear conflicting testimony from police ranks—who spoke with whom and said he did not. Then we are hearing evidence that suggests that people other than police shot and killed those men.
That is most interesting, because it suggests that the police had in their ranks people who were not policemen but who could have worked with policemen, although I do not believe that is what happened.
I happened to talk to an old policeman who worked at a time when there were real riots in Guyana, when the entire country was under siege. We recalled the day leading up Black Friday 1962. It was February 12 and the waterfront workers were beginning to really protest. The police were called out from the Tactical Services Unit.
Men who were heading to breakfast forgot their meals when they were asked to replace those who were on the streets. As they left barracks there was an officer who handed out equipment and made notes. Such was the situation that within a minute an entire unit would be rolling out of Eve Leary.
Strange though it may seem, not once did the police have to shoot anyone of the protestors. Even when small arm fire was directed at the police they did not shoot at the crowd because they quickly realized where the fire was coming from.  Even when the senior officers were hit—James Phoenix, Balram Raghubir, James McLeod—the ranks did not shoot.
In Linden there was no shooting but three people died. Something must be wrong with the manual. And talking about rogue cops; there was this police recruit who stole a tin of shoe polish. He was jailed for three months and no one ever wanted to commit a crime in the force. The sight of this recruit being hauled off to the brig so stunned all those other ranks that they did not want to ever contemplate anything criminal.
I heard testimonies coming out of the commission that would make people wonder whether there is any truth in anything people say. People testified to seeing police shooting when I am certain that they could not, except when the police were shooting tear smoke.
I also noted the attempt to suggest that Clement Rohee, the Home Affairs ordered the shooting.  Fortunately, the phone records suggested otherwise. In 1962, when the police commissioner Puttock called James Phoenix and ordered him to shoot into the crowd, Phoenix, who later became a priest, simply informed the commissioner that he was the officer on the ground and that he would decide when shots would be fired.
This is what the force was. There was no contact between the politicians and the police ranks. Times have changed, and certainly not for the better.
But the commission has done a lot of good. For one, it has allowed for catharsis. People who were affected got a chance to bare their souls, and this is for the good. The commission has also exposed shortcomings in many areas. It exposed the level of communication within the force; the way the chain of command is by-passed; and the knowledge of the senior ranks about what is in the armoury.
To my mind, it has also placed a blanket over Linden. The people are now less likely to protest, because they themselves have seen how the situation actually was through the eyes of their colleagues. Many of them must be asking themselves whether they did the right thing.
The questions about the right to block the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge have not been answered and will never be.

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