There is a widely held view that the police in Third World countries often operate in breach of the law and they do so with impunity because their supervising officers simply do not know better. And if these officers do know better, then they are often hamstrung by political directives that should play no part in the operation of the ordinary police rank.
Another observation is that in Guyana there seems to be two laws governing protests and demonstrations. If the protest is held in the city then the police must use excessive force regardless of whether the people are demonstrating peacefully without any weapons or objects of destruction.
However, similar protests in other parts of the country would only attract the attention of the police for the purpose of observation. Occasionally the police may be required to clear debris that may be have been used to block the streets. They would also effect a few arrests that are nothing more that removing potential trouble makers from the scene of the demonstration.
On Tuesday, police opened fire on a group of demonstrators in the city simply because they happened to be on the streets in large numbers. This must be seen as the most blatant abuse of power and the most flagrant use of excessive force. The shooting sent many to hospital and more than a few to private hospitals for medical attention. There were arrests that eventually meant nothing in that there was no court action.
But there is another aspect to the police shooting. The police are constrained by an ordinance which stipulates that once a person’s back is turned toward the shooter or that person is fleeing then that person is no longer a threat and that there should be no shooting. Even fleeing criminals should not be shot in the back.
There is overwhelming evidence that the people were shot in the back. They were moving away from the police. The police action was therefore illegal. The shooting cannot be justified and the victims should seek redress in the courts. The Police Commissioner and the Divisional Commander should be brought to book.
There was a lot wrong about the shooting. It is a pity that the courts are sometimes slothful and ineffective. The numerous reporters actually captured the moment the shooting began. The people were moving away. They had turned away from the police because they were instructed to avoid confrontation.
In other countries where there are shootings there are debriefings. The people who shoot are taken off the streets. Not in Guyana. Shooters are encouraged by the hierarchy of the police force with the support of others who have no business in affairs of the police.
Indeed Georgetown is no stranger to protests. There were protests after every election except the 2006 elections when the nation accepted its fate. Some of the protests turned violent and left destruction in their wake. However, the realization that destruction could set the country back caused many leaders to refrain from such disruption of national life.
So it was that protests over the failure on the part of the Guyana Elections Commission to reconcile Statements of Poll were deliberately peaceful. The leaders asked that their supporters refrain from confrontation with the police. Further, knowing the effect of the protests on the commercial sector the leaders asked that those who opt to march keep away from places like Regent Street and the other shopping areas.
Given that the protesters opted to act responsibly one must now wonder at the reason for the forced confrontation with the police. In the first instance protests are not illegal. In every so-called democratic country we have seen spontaneous protests and demonstrations. Just recently there was a major one near Wall Street. It was dubbed Occupy Wall Street. People set up tents and actually lived on the streets for days. At no time did the police shoot at anyone.
It has been the same in Canada. Again there have been no reports of shooting. Britain has had its share of violent protests. Stores have been looted and burnt and rarely have the police resorted to shooting. British High Commissioner, Andrew Ayre, was quite clear when he said that his country recognizes people’s right to protest.
Guyana must be different.
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