– how the crime wave changed us
By Michael Jordan
We journalists like to preserve the romantic image of ourselves as being fearless pursuers of the truth, going where lesser mortals dare to tread. We joke and tease each other when we meet at the scenes of gruesome crimes; hardened media operatives laughing in the face of death.
But we who have been in the trenches during the 2002 to 2009 period when we saw unbelievably heinous crimes remain haunted, and have been changed by some of the things we have seen. That period was our own 911. It changed us in ways we don’t really care to admit.
I remember that midnight in June, 2005, when my cell phone rang and someone told me to rush to Second Street, Agricola.
The caller gave no hint as to what lay in store, but I knew that the name Agricola had become synonymous with things unpleasant.
A few police ranks were in a yard when I arrived.
I saw someone that I knew and that someone whispered to me to go into the house.
I hurried up the short front steps into the open house.
On the bed, lying face-down, was the bullet-riddled body of a teenage girl.
In this job, you don’t stop to let the horror sink in or you will freeze. I aimed my camera and quickly flashed a few photographs.
I exited the house, thinking that my work was complete, until I saw the thing on the ground near the front step.
It was the body of a man, or rather, part of a man’s body. Nearby, lay something that looked like a bloodied piece of meat, and it took some time for my mind to absorb the fact that the other object was a severed head. The eyes stared at nothing. The mouth gaped open in some sort of mute appeal. Again, I took that photograph and was going out of the yard when my contact whispered: “They got another one under the steps.”
Checking under the low step, I saw a third body. The corpse was folded up beneath the step, as if the victim had crawled there in a desperate and futile bid to elude his killers.
I took that picture and then hurried in to work to write my story.
I learned that the headless man was Agricola resident David Barrow called ‘Gurple’.
The girl on the bed was ‘Gurple’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Shamika Boyce, while the dead man under the stairs was Paul Persaud, called ‘Yankee’, a deportee from the US.
Some said that ‘Gurple’ was beheaded because he had ‘cochored’ on the relative of one of the notorious gunmen who had the country under siege.
As for Shamika Boyce and Yankee? They were reportedly killed for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was when I downloaded the photographs and had a look at them that the horror of what I had seen sank in.
I looked at that bloody head and wondered: What were his last thoughts? What manner of man had committed this crime?
I had come face to face with violent death many times in my career as a crime reporter.
But now I was seeing barbaric, senseless death that left me with a palpable, suffocating sense of evil hovering around me.
Then there was the time in November 22, 2002, that I rushed (in hindsight, foolishly) into Buxton in the dead of night, after hearing that there had been gunplay in the village. We had received word earlier in the day that the military forces were going into the community with orders to “capture, maim and kill”, the gunmen who were said to be hiding out there.
Travelling in a little white car, we drove deep into the village. It was almost pitch black, since most of the lights were off. The streets were deserted. An eerie silence enveloped us. The few people that we saw in their yards refused to tell us what had transpired or to direct us to the scene of the shooting.
We drove on, half-expecting to hear the bark of gunfire at any moment. What am I doing here? I wondered.
Eventually, we spotted an army vehicle parked in front of us. A group of soldiers stood on the roadway around something that lay motionless on the ground.
But before we could go closer some of the ranks ordered us out of the village.
I would eventually learn that the dead man was Sean Spaulding, a Trinidadian ‘mercenary’ who, along with others, had entered Buxton at nightfall to do battle with the gunmen who were hiding in the community.
The armed men who had entered Buxton had lost the skirmish and Spaulding had paid with his life.
Myself and two colleagues (foolishly again) returned to Buxton in the dead of night a few months later when the Joint Services killed two gunmen.
There were also times when I didn’t go looking for danger, but when danger, nevertheless, found me.
It was February, 2003, and I was living in Hadfield Street, Lodge. This was not far from where George Bacchus and his brother would later be murdered, and a stone’s throw from the National Cultural Centre, where gunmen would execute a Buxton youth.
A detective constable, Deon Johnson, had been killed in Sophia that day, and it was around 22:45 hrs when I switched off my computer and called a taxi to take me home.
I was half-asleep by the time I arrived Hadfield Street, so I failed to notice the man who was walking in front of the taxi in which I was traveling.
But I came awake instantly when the man who was in front of us turned around, opened his jacket, and pointed a sub-machine gun at us.
He kept the gun trained on my taxi for a few seconds and then muttered: “I did wondering is who slowing down behind me.”
With that, he turned away and disappeared into a nearby yard.
I would later learn that the man with the sub-machine gun was one of the dreaded members of the so-called ‘death squad’, who were hunting down criminals believed to be responsible for the crime wave.
A few months after that, my then five-year-old daughter and my 12-year-old son were in a neighbour’s yard, where a birthday party was being held, when gunshots rang out at a ballfield a short distance away. My son hurriedly picked up his little sister and took her into the neighbour’s house.
We were later told that a policeman who was on the ball-field had almost been gunned down by some young men who had been trailing him.
There is much more. I have also seen a gunman riddled with bullets as he tried to crawl from beneath a bridge to attack police ranks; I saw the victims of the Lusignan slaughter, and the bodies of my five slaughtered colleagues; I took the photograph of a 15-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten to death and dumped so like garbage on the East Coast Demerara Public Road.
So how has all this gore and violence affected me?
Well, when the crime wave began we journalists were certain that it would end sooner rather than later. But as the killings continued an aura of depression began to overwhelm us. We went home exhausted and returned to work next day to more horror.
Paranoia set in; not just in us, but in every civilian, it seemed. Some terrified police ranks grew beards, let their hair grow and dressed in plainclothes. I remember introducing myself to an old police rank who I hadn’t seen in years. He didn’t remember me, and I still recall the wary look in his eyes when I asked if he was ever in the Force. “But I’m retired now,” he said.
I remember hiring a taxi one night outside Demico House, and the driver suddenly telling me, as I sat in the front seat, “I ain’t working anymore.” Something about me had made him uneasy.
We all became wary of strange cars driving past us.
As for me, black umbrellas or other objects sticking out of a vehicle would momentarily look like assault rifles.
Living in Lodge, where some of the executions had occurred, I began to fear for my family. We discussed what we should do if a gunfight broke out near our home or if we came under attack. I thought of building some sort of concrete bunker.
I became wary of hanging out in Sheriff Street at nights, for fear that I would be a victim of a senseless drive-by shooting.
Sometimes, my colleagues and I would ask each other: Would you risk your life like that again?
Most of us give a resounding ‘No.’
But on the Elections night of May 11, 2015, my colleague Dale Andrews and I rushed to Sophia, after hearing of some disturbance there.
The first sign of unrest was the sight of horses running loose in the street. We later learned that the paddocks in which they were kept had been set alight. When we arrived, we saw vehicles being set alight. We interviewed a Pastor whose vehicles and home had been vandalized by residents who believed that his residence was an illegal Polling Station.
Stones rained on the building as we interviewed the terrified Pastor and his family. We heard intermittent gunfire as persons from a nearby home tried to scare off the mob. That only incensed them more.
We hurried away from the community as another vehicle went up in flames.
Bullets and black umbrellas all over again.
Feb 28, 2020Guyana’s ‘Lady Jags’ go down to Mexico; focus now turn to round-of-16 Guyana’s ‘Lady Jaguars’ went down to group winners Mexico by a 0-3 margin last night at the Olimpico Felix Sanchez...
Feb 28, 2020
Feb 28, 2020
Feb 28, 2020
Feb 28, 2020
Feb 28, 2020
I refer readers to my column titled, “Claudette Singh, Lennox Shuman, GECOM and tragic Guyana” of Saturday, February... more
Editor’s Note, If your sent letter was not published and you felt its contents were valid and devoid of libel or personal attacks, 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]