Jul 22, 2013 News
– residents recall the July 18 tragedy
By Enid Joaquin
July 18, 2012, began with the sun out in all its glory, and people all across Linden were preparing to hit the streets.
It was the day that they were going to peacefully protest the hike in electricity tariffs proposed by Government for the community, and which was to be implemented the first day of July.
Buoyed by remarks from Chairman of Region 10 Sharma Solomon that it was not that Lindeners were unwilling to pay the increases, but rather, that they couldn’t pay the increases, the protest commenced shortly after 07:00 hrs on July 18th.
Residents had trekked from all across town, chanting against the increase, which many said was ‘unconscionable,’ and songs such as “We Shall Overcome”, and other solidarity songs filled the air.
But, “we ain’t paying no increase- Sam Hinds eyes pass we” was the popular refrain.
The massive crowds from both sides of the river, later congregated at the Mackenzie/ Wismar Bridge, to ‘unambiguously’ send the message to Government, that Lindeners were neither prepared nor equipped to pay the proposed increases.
By midday there were hundreds of persons flocking the bridge, by which time no vehicular traffic could cross either way. For commuters who were travelling to and from the interior locations, a shuttle system was introduced, where buses would offload, then collect passengers for the return trip, instead of proceeding straight to Georgetown, or Mahdia or Lethem, as the case might be. The commuters of course had to walk across the bridge where they continued their journey by boarding another bus.
But eventually, no vehicles from outside of the town were allowed to either enter or leave the town.
Businesses and offices were shut tight, and the ferry boats lay moored at their landings. The atmosphere though a little tense, was peaceful.
Never did the thought enter anyone’s mind that anything could go wrong- but it did, just after sundown.
Chaos would erupt after tear smoke canisters were hurled by police to disperse the crowd on the bridge, after their calls to do so were ignored.
Gun shots later rent the air, and pandemonium broke out.
The acrid smoke from the smoke canisters, which burnt people’s eyes, and choked them, only added to the chaos.
Soon there were reports that one person was shot dead- then two- three and even four.
All over, people were panicking and screaming. Residents looked frantically for loved ones, and many made a beeline for the nearby Linden Hospital complex.
The scene at the hospital was one of utter confusion, as the injured, dead and dying were brought in.
Benches in the waiting area were filled with children, who were hardest hit by the tear smoke. Most of them were crying, while some appeared disoriented. Their parents were angry and a few were reduced to tears.
Meanwhile, the bodies of those that were killed were hastily wrapped and deposited on the hospital floor, outside the waiting area, until relatives turned up to identify them.
Soon it was confirmed that the slain were 46-year-old Allan Lewis, Ron Sommerset and Shemroy Bouyea. Realizing that the men were killed, because of the reckless and indiscriminate shooting by the police, the people became incensed.
Almost simultaneously a truck parked on Casaurina Drive exploded in a ball of fire, while the nearby Linmine Secretariat building lit up the darkness.
Fire tenders could not traverse the debris-strewn Washer Pond Road, to get to Causarina Drive.
The fire would burn itself out through the night, while the surrounding area was plunged into blackness. This conflagration and others across the community, in the ensuing days, would spark a blame game, with the people blaming the police, and the police blaming the people.
There would be speculation that the fire at the Linmine secretariat was deliberately set to destroy footage, from the Close-Circuit TV that was installed there, and which would have recorded all that transpired on the bridge.
Sheila Huggins, who had entered Linden on that very day after journeying from French Guyana, said that the protest and subsequent killings, ‘were a rude awakening’ for her.
Huggins said that she had never heard about the impending protest so was very surprised that there was a total shut down of the town, when she arrived that afternoon.
She was in even more shock, she said, when three of her fellow Lindeners were shot and killed by nightfall, and several persons shot and injured.
“I was in total shock to see all these people out on the streets, and even more shocked to see all these police out with their big guns at the ready.
“I said to myself ‘what is going on here’ because nobody had told me anything of what was brewing or anything, so you can imagine my bewilderment when I arrived near the bridge (Mackenzie/Wismar), as the police stopped me, and asked me where I was going.
“I told them I was going to my family across the river, and I only wanted to pass, because I had just come into the country- and even though they could see my suitcases and everything, they didn’t pay any attention to that- they turned me back.’’
Huggins said that a little after that the police fired tear gas into the crowd, to disperse the people.
“Soon after shots rang out; I was right there when the first shot was fired, and I saw this policeman that was there taking notes, but I became scared and ducked down behind a car.
I was very, very scared because I had my son and my two nieces with me.
So I took them and we ran towards the old hospital to seek refuge, but the gates were locked, and the guards wouldn’t open for us.”
That would be the beginning of what would become a month long protest.
Within the next couple of days, several buildings on both Mackenzie and Wismar would be reduced to blackened concrete shells and useless rubble.
All the buildings except one on Casaurina Drive were obliterated on what was dubbed by this newspaper as “Fiery Friday”.
Hundreds looked on helplessly as buildings housing the Linden Care Foundation and GRA offices, among others, were consumed by the inferno.
These and other incidents would precipitate the invasion of the town by joint services ranks who set up camps at strategic locations, on both Mackenzie and Wismar.
It was the beginning of a very tense period, as the joint services took on the ‘impossible’ task of clearing the thoroughfares of logs, broken bottles and other debris, which residents would no sooner replace.
As the soldiers were clearing the blockades, residents were busy with power saws, cutting trees and logs to replace them.
Black smoke constantly enveloped the town, as tyres and other objects were set alight on roadways.
There would be several clashes between the joint services and residents, as the community took on the atmosphere of a war zone.
Soldiers and police ranks were everywhere, but the people refused to budge, as they cried out defiantly over and over,’ No retreat, No Surrender!’
The police’s reaction to the residents’ defiance was to occasionally hurl tear gas canisters in their midst to disperse them. That of course was like adding fuel to an already raging fire. The people became further incensed, and reacted even more defiantly.
There was evidence that tear gas canisters were hurled into yards in Silvertown, in the wee hours of the morning, on the very day that the One Mile Primary School and three buildings on the Winifred Gaskin Highway were torched.
For residents in the Silvertown and One Mile areas, it was indeed a trying time.
Burnham Drive on Wismar is the main access road to the Mackenzie/ Wismar Bridge and runs parallel to Silvertown, which along with West Watooka, are the closest communities to the bridge.
People in these communities suffered the most from the effects of the canisters, as Burnham Drive was the point where protesters would converge, before congregating at the bridge. So it was that canisters that were hurled into the crowds on Burnham Drive, affected the people in Silver town, and to a lesser extent West Watooka.
Several women with babies in arms had to run out of their homes from Silvertown in the wee hours, to escape the smoke and fumes.
One woman recalled that she was awakened before 04:00 hrs one morning and had to run out of her Silvertown home, and head for the Wismar Market, which is about a quarter of a mile away.
“I had to come out the house- me and dem children, because de smoke de suffocating and blinding we. We run out just so with just what we had on- barefoot.”
Rumours soon spread that two babies had died from the effects of the tear smoke.
Fear permeated the atmosphere all across the One Mile and Wismar Housing Scheme areas, and residents would refer to the communities as “Bagdad”.
The sporadic rat-a-tat of gunfire would drive fear into the hearts of some, who cowered in their homes, but others remained resolute in their position, “no retreat, no surrender”.
One young man, Randy Tello from the One Mile area was shot in the face by police, a few nights into the month-long protest.
Ray Wills was also wounded in the foot, allegedly by a bullet that had grazed his son. The two were at the time standing in their yard in the Wismar Housing Scheme.
A 76-year-old woman recalled the horrible days and nights when the sound of gunfire punctuated the atmosphere with more regularity than she cares to remember.
“I was very afraid, because every now and then, you would hear these guns just going off- pow-pow and rat-a tat-tat, and you couldn’t help wondering if anybody was being killed.
“At first my daughter told me that I should stay in the back room, because she was afraid that stray bullets might enter the house, and hit me. But then later when it seemed to be getting worse, she took me to her home in Amelia’s Ward, where it was much more safe and quiet.” The woman said that she only returned to her home after normalcy was restored in the town.
Across the river at Mackenzie, residents had blocked the bridge at Kara Kara, over which a tent was erected. A vigil was kept day and night. A food camp was also erected nearby.
Other food camps were also erected at strategic points where people could go and get something to eat, throughout the day, and even in the evenings. These camps were supported by local businesses and overseas Lindeners.
Persons took turns manning and cooking at these camps. For many residents, the food at the camps were their only means of sustenance, as no economic activity was going on, and the shops remained shut tight. A few enterprising residents had stocked up on rations before, in anticipation of the crisis.
But the joint services would eventually destroy the Kara Kara food camp, and bulldoze the structure over the Kara Kara bridge. The rails on the bridge were damaged in the process.
The infamous water cannon was subsequently deployed to disperse the crowds, but residents stood their ground, as the cannon was incapable of even effecting a ‘drizzle’.
It would become the laughing stock of the town. One man in reference to the cannon, had remarked, “I can p*** further than that thing, that was a waste of tax-payers’ money!”
During all this time, there would be several meetings between Government and Chairman of Region 10 Sharma Solomon, to address the situation over which the joint services had little control.
Eventually, an agreement was entered into on August 21st, stipulating certain issues to be addressed before the people would be called off the streets.
However all along Solomon had maintained that as long as those issues were addressed by Government, the people would not have to be called off the streets.
‘They would willingly come off the streets’, he had declared.
People would only come off the streets after the agreement was signed, and Government agreed to withhold the electricity increase.
Burying the dead
Linden would bury its dead, on August 1, Emancipation Day.
It was the consensus that that day was the fitting day to bury the men, who were now considered martyrs, that had justly fought against, what the community felt was an injustice.
It would be the most massive funeral to be held in the Town, with people journeying to Linden from all across the country, to show their respects and solidarity. The funeral service would also be the first to take place at the Mackenzie /Wismar Bridge.
A funeral entourage that stretched for miles, proceeded to the Bamia cemetery where their bodies were interred, after nightfall.
Later, a Commission of Inquiry (COI) was established to look into the matter of the men’s deaths, determine who was responsible, and to determine compensation, for their families, as well as for several persons who had been injured.
According to information coming out of the COI findings, the police were responsible, and it was decided that relatives of Allan Lewis and Shemroy Boyea would receive $3M each in compensation, while Ron Sommerset relatives will be given $2M.
But the men’s relatives have deemed the compensation being offered as inadequate.
Daphne Lewis, mother of Allan Lewis, had in an earlier interview told Kaieteur News, “It cannot compensate and it’s definitely not fair. I lost my son, and his children lost their father, who used to do his best for them- he did the best he could for everybody. That money is definitely inadequate.”
“Mrs. Lewis, who is now 80, had depended mostly on her son, Allan, for financial support. She said that things are really hard for her right now.
“Right now, with this rainy weather, the house leaking bad, it wetting all the bed I have to sleep on. Allan had a lot of plans. He was going to look after the roof and fix the house; if he was here it would have been done already”
She added that when it rains heavily, she has to lie on her bed and cover with plastic, so as not to get wet.
Her grandson Orlando said that life has been ‘tough’ since his father died, resulting in him temporarily shelving his plans to attend the University of Guyana.
His brother, Rodwell, presently attends the institution, and is expected to soon graduate; but his aunt Denise said that it is really hard, because Rodwell has to depend on the family to assist him.
“I try my best, but I can only do so much, because I’m not working, I only having a little business selling phone cards- so we facing a lot of pressure’.
Both Denise and another sibling said that the money is inadequate.
Leonard Bouyea, said that his nephew Shemroy Bouyea was twenty five at the time of his death, and as such had his whole life ahead of him.
“His life gone, it was snuffed out, and no amount of compensation could bring him back. His life was worth more than that. Anyhow, I’m at least thankful for his mother, who works as a security guard, and is a single parent.
“Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon has committed to ensuring that “we stay solidly with the families and that they get the justice they deserve.
“We have been supporting them throughout, and we will continue to pursue justice for them, and we know that what is not delivered by man, will be delivered by the Almighty’.
Referring to the deaths of the three men, Solomon said that we should never take for granted what their lives represented, “but know that these people had their relatives, and friends- people who cared for them, and we should all become cognizant of the fact, that it could have been any of us.”
Linden observed an entire week of activities, in remembrance of the men, which included the unveiling of two designs for the proposed monument park, and essay and debating competitions, pertaining to the July protests, for Secondary schools.
On Wednesday, a candle light vigil was held at the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge, followed by the wreath laying ceremony at Bamia on Thursday July 18th.
The sod was also turned at the site, where the Linden Martyrs Park will be established.
Jun 19, 2021Kaieteur News – Athletics Guyana (AG) Senior Championships commenced yesterday at the National Track and Field Facility, Leonora. In the Men’s 110m hurdles, Hosea Glen of Guyana Defence...
Jun 19, 2021
Jun 19, 2021
Jun 19, 2021
Jun 19, 2021
Jun 18, 2021
Kaieteur News – Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has lost power in a confidence motion in which the voting... more
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]