The police owe us an explanation
By Adam Harris
The Linden Commission of Inquiry is over. The report has been presented and while some may be smiling, others are not. The issue of the quantum of compensation looms large. According to Chairman of the Commission, Justice Lensley Wolfe, the commission heard from 71 people, each adding his bit to what really transpired in Linden.
In the end it came down to who was responsible for the death of three Lindeners and the quantum of compensation that was awarded to the relatives of the victims. Indeed, those who were injured also received a level of compensation that may not make many of them happy.
To my mind, the commissioners were concerned with closing that chapter in the history of Guyana. It apportioned blame where blame was due and it sought to appease those who still held some measure of anger at the force used by the Guyana Police Force to quell what should have been a peaceful protest.
It is here that I must take a look at the operation of the police. It is common knowledge that the police feel that whenever people protest they, the police, have to make their presence felt by using force, sometimes deadly force. I had cause to write in these pages about the manner in which the colonial police dealt with protests.
There were no rubber bullets then. But then again, the people would not have been as armed as they are today. In Linden, the people were not armed. If the police had to shoot they would usually shoot over the heads of the crowd. To my mind there were hardly any killings.
Even when the British soldiers came, and soldiers are not inclined to take civilian prisoners, there were scarcely any deaths. No more than three or four rioters were killed in the city over the days of the 1963 riots. In Linden, within a few hours three people lay dead, all of them shot by the police.
The other significant thing is that they were shot with bullets that the police said they had withdrawn from circulation. If indeed the police did withdraw those bullets, one is left to wonder how it is that they were back in circulation to end up in the bodies of Shemroy Bouyea, Allan Lewis and Ron Somerset.
Was there a need to shoot into the crowd? The commissioners did not examine this issue, because I would suppose that they would conclude that the issue was not within their terms of reference. However, the hierarchy of the Guyana Police Force must explain how these bullets ended up in circulation.
Usually, weapons and ammunition are stored in an armoury, to be issued by the person in control of the armoury on the instruction of a senior officer. If a senior officer were to go to the armoury for ammunition, he would have to sign a book, unless the armoury is so uncontrolled that people could walk in and pocket whatever they needed and leave.
Police Commissioner, Leroy Brumell, was adamant that the bullets found in the bodies of the victims in Linden were not police issue.
The commissioners have concluded that the police shot the people.
They went further. They singled out a senior police rank, Colin Todd, as being the most likely person to have fired the fatal bullets.
Todd has since been transferred to the hinterland, which was once the standard punishment for people. My view is that the transfer must have been rooted in some other reason, because the police commissioner had no way of knowing that the Linden Commission of Inquiry would have singled out this police officer. The transfer came before the commission report.
So I am left to wonder whether there is going to be some serious questions of the police commissioner; first about the bullets that killed the people in Linden, and about Todd’s decision to shoot. He was not the ranking officer on the ground and he therefore had to be instructed. Certainly he could not claim that he was shot at and therefore acted in self-defence. The senior rank on the ground must say whether he gave any order to shoot.
I would also wish to know if Brumell is going to mount an investigation into how the banned bullets went into circulation. In any other country, there would have been a hue and cry over what the very police say was an irregularity. This issue must not be allowed to die. People want to know about the controls in the Guyana Police Force.
Then there is the issue of compensation. It would seem that the commissioners looked at the question of compensation in relation to the level of financial contribution this person made to his immediate family. If human life was judged in that manner, then people killed on the roadways would have had different levels of compensation whenever their relatives went to the courts.
A child who would have made no contribution to the financial stability of the household would have been worth nothing. A senior politician would have been worth a lot.
I looked at the quantum given for two of the lives – one of them a 24-year-old and the other, a 46-year-old were found to worth $3 million. The average man working for the minimum wage would have provided at least $500,000 a year.
Lewis, at the present rate, if he were a public servant would have had another nine years of active work. Bouyea would have had 31 years. The Mathematics would suggest that Bouyea should have got more than the $3 million. Lewis should have also got more.
Then there is the contribution that is never valued; the work around the house, the other labours, the cost of the companionship and these other incalculables. I am disappointed to say the least, but then again, I do not want to appear to be a troublemaker.
I live alone with a grandson. Should I be shot by the police I am left to wonder at the level of compensation that would be pointed in my direction. It is for this disregard for human values that I have never sued anyone for libel, and there have been quite a few.