Jan 01, 2012 Letters
I was a victim of the police shooting on Tuesday, December 6th in Hadfield Street. Like other peaceful citizens who were shot that day, I was hit several times resulting in six wounds, the most serious being at the back of my head. I had deliberately refrained from writing on this brutal and barbaric incident in order to study the response of the society, and more importantly, that of the police and political authorities.
I also wanted to avoid a rush to judgment on the political significance of the police action in light of the misplaced optimism by persons who genuinely believed at the time that in spite of the crisis after the polls closed, the General and Regional elections of 2011 would be free and fair and would result in an accurate declaration of the votes cast for political parties. Instead, we had the discredited results, which left the PPP/C with a minority government.
As a political activist who has been involved in the political process in Guyana for years, during the course of which I have been able to develop a sense of the various dynamics/characteristics of Guyanese political behavior, I have discovered there is a risk of being labeled an extremist, if and when you fail to confirm to what I would refer to as the prevailing dominant thinking of that day/period.
For example, in the present situation in Guyana where the PPPC has about 48 percent of the votes, controls the Executive, and the combined opposition, which effectively holds the majority in the parliament as a result of garnering just over 51 percent of the votes, many are expecting that this situation will usher in some degree of progress for the nation. I know I risk incurring the wrath of my detractors when I say I am not sure that will be the case.
My experiences over the years dealing with our politics has led me to the position, that objective and independent thinking, don’t resonate very often with sections of the society, whose economic and political interests lie in maintaining the status quo.
These elements, in their advocacy of peace, are really arguing for peace without justice. Too often it has been proven, that these interest groups have very little or no patriotism and they are unwilling to make the sacrifice for a better Guyana.
I think it is very important that a synopsis of the march from the perspective of an eye-witness who was present throughout the exercise would serve to educate the public at large on the developments, which occurred on this day of infamy.
The events which led to the shooting of persons on Tuesday 6th December, had its genesis in a decision taken by the young people of APNU to sponsor a series of marches for which they claimed permission was sought from and approved by the Commander of Police of “A” Division. George Vyphius. At the time of making the application routes of the marches were also supplied to Mr. Vyphius. It was only after the organizers were informed that permission was granted to them that they put their final preparations for the marches in place.
The march of December 6th was the first in the series and was scheduled to depart from the Square of the Revolution. I arrived there very early and was therefore well positioned to observe the unfolding developments between the police, the Youth Leaders, and the masses of people who came out to participate in the march.
One could not miss the over zealousness of officer (name given). He came over as a man with a “Mission” to fulfill. This officer, who was in constant contact with some higher authority, conveyed the impression that his presence at the scene of the march was to carry out his instructions – which presumably was that to prevent the march from taking place at all cost and any attempt to march, was to be broken up by him with the maximum use of force. In such a situation police action against the marchers was inevitable. The only issue was how to minimize what was pending.
I believe the actions of the youth leaders are to be commended and applauded. They and their allies acted very responsibly and in good faith as they tried to negotiate an acceptable resolution to the “crisis” they were faced with. That was prompted by the Officer’s insistence that no permission was given for the march.
The organizers of the march had a different view on the issue of permission: they felt that it was indeed given to them and political pressure was brought to bear on the police to stop the march.
With no compromise in sight and the people becoming agitated, the Youth Leadership decided to walk two abreast to avoid the accusation of marching. This was supported by the people who took up their positions.
When the walk started I joined Retired Brigadier Edward Collins at the front. The walk proceeded into Brickdam, initially without any police interference but this situation did not last very long, since the police attempted to stop us as the walk continued.
To avoid confrontation a decision was made for a left turn from Brickdam and then a right into Hadfield Street. It then became clear to all of us that the march was faced with a bigger threat than was originally envisaged, because instead of the regular police contingent, which was avoided on Brickdam, it was now confronted by personnel from the Tactical Services Unit who took up battle formation across the road.
When the walk approached the police line the Officer (name given) ordered us to return to our homes or face the consequences. The two abreast formation was disrupted as persons from behind came to the front to see what was happening. As the march continued the police line retreated.
At that point I noticed the officer was on his phone, presumably reporting to his superiors. At the end of his brief conversation he looked very agitated. My impression was that he had not gotten the instructions he wanted and was probably told the “call” was his to make.
He then instructed his men to fire, they did not. He repeated the instructions and the unit took two steps backward and lifted their weapons pointing them in our direction. At that point I looked at the faces of the young officers and sensed they were in an unfamiliar situation and that most, if not all, had never fired on humans before.
This probably explained their refusal to carry out their instructions when the officer first issued them. When the officer realized that his men were reluctant to shoot into the crowd he snatched a weapon from an officer and fired repeatedly on the ground.
On hearing gun shots the crowd began to flee in different directions. The Officer repeated the instructions to fire. This time his men complied and people were hit by many shots. As we retreated the police continued to fire. This explained why most of the victims were shot from behind.
I subsequently made my way to Congress Place where I learnt that Retired Brigadier Collins was assaulted and arrested by a group of police men while on his way there.
This unnecessary but vicious act of police violence sent shock waves throughout the society, and added to the already tense post election situation. Amid the uncertainty of how the Leadership of APNU would respond to these brutal and unprovoked attacks and the widespread local and regional condemnation, it was therefore not surprising that the authorities felt pressured to break from their known history on these matters and make a quick response. In the process, they distanced themselves from the shootings thereby leaving the officer to take the heat.
The responses of Commissioner of Police, Henry Greene, who was still in active service at that time and his political master, Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, left a lot to be desired. It was very clear that they were surprised and taken aback by the extent of the condemnation directed at them and like oppressors everywhere, they were more interested in absolving themselves of blame while attempting damage control measures.
Hence their decision to throw the Officer to the wolves by trying to make it appear that he took independent, excessive action outside of the framework of his instructions.
It is important to note that while Mr. Greene was lecturing us on democracy and the law, he did not see it fit to order an inquiry into the shooting as any professional Commissioner of Police would have done.
In fact, he was being brazen when he suggested that the victims had to accept some responsibility for what took place, since they broke the law. Of course he did not say what Law it is they had broken.
The question I wish to pose is this – since when walking peacefully two abreast along the streets of Guyana is an unlawful act? As stated earlier, there was an avalanche of condemnation from the local, regional and international community about the shooting and demands were made for an impartial inquiry. To date, neither the police nor the rulers have responded positively to this call.
The new President and his team appear to be reluctant believers and upholders of the rule of law and civilized governance practices. No well intentioned leader of a country could advance, in the circumstances of the shooting of December 6, any good reason for not acquiescing to the call for an inquiry.
Ramotar has refused to go the route of an inquiry because like in the instance of the call for an inquiry into the more than 400 deaths which took place following the 2002 Mashramani jail break, the PPP party and government fears the outcome.
For Ramotar and his cohorts appearance is more important than substance; that is why those persons who are expecting much from this President and the new dispensation ushered in by the “results” of the November 28 General and Regional elections, will be greatly disappointed. Ramotar is prepared as he has said on numerous occasions during the recent campaign, to continue Jagdeo’s policy. That includes covering up many of the evils of the regime and its cronies.
Guyanese should understand that just as they refused to inquire into the shootings of December 6, they would also have refused to investigate the allegation of rape against the “top cop” Greene, who they have deeply embedded in their pockets.
However, the allegations against Greene coming so soon after the shootings and the flak they received created a considerable amount of political embarrassment for them. In the circumstances they felt something had to give and so they very reluctantly bowed to the pressures for an inquiry into Greene’s behavior.
To them, Greene against whom a litany of allegations were made, which the government refused to take action on, suddenly became baggage they could not afford to identify with. So they jettisoned him. In that context the subsequent decision to institute charges on Collins and others only served to underscore the hypocrisy of the police and the regime.
The lesson which we must learn as events unfold in Guyana is that only meaningful action against the authorities by citizens, as exemplified by the courageous members of the youth movement, which their public activities have kept up the pressure on the rulers, post election, will bring about any change in the status quo.
I am reminded that more than two years ago I wrote a letter suggesting a public debate on what constitutes peaceful struggle. In an attempt to justify posing the need for the debate I had said it was important for us as a people/nation to ventilate, fearlessly, objectively our rationale/concerns on this matter.
In the letter I alluded to I had pointed out that in my opinion, we would be fooling ourselves if we believe that future social/political challenges in Guyana would not have to confront this dilemma.
Unfortunately, the invitation to the proposed public was rejected out of hand. People appeared to have adopted the position that profound silence was the one best way to address difficult situations. The December 6 shooting is yet another manifestation of the dangers we expose ourselves to given this chronic weakness in our political culture.
A new generation of political activists has paid the price for our generation’s collective reckless and irresponsible behavior of believing that repression will end without conscious political action to stop it.
While this is pure conjecture, I would want to believe that if we had pursued the debate the police might have acted with restraint, and innocent blood would not have been shed on December 6, 2011.
However, historians will not fail to observe that Mr. Donald Ramotar’s Presidency virtually commenced with the actions of police officers shooting young political protestors who were struggling to make their mark on the political process.
Painful as it is to say I am convinced that the GHRA’s call for a national discussion on the prevailing dominance of ethnic/race influence on our national elections will, just like my call for a debate of forms of peaceful struggle, fall by the wayside.
I wish to implore on young people whose role in Guyana’s evolving political process is clearly defined to keep up the struggle while remaining vigilant. You are on the right track; Guyana needs you more than ever.
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