It has been a long time since so many men got killed in a single police action. This was the case on Thursday when three men got shot and killed on the Georgetown seawalls. There was a time when such action was almost par for the course. Those were the days of the crime wave.
There were many young criminals who considered themselves gunmen. Indeed there was the core and these young men were the offshoot. Guyana was in their grip. The news media constantly reported clashes of the gangs and clashes with the police.
During that period more policemen died in the line duty than at any time in the 175-year history of the force. The police retaliated as best they could, in the process killing many men out of hand.
Soon society claimed that it had enough of the killing and public opinion won out. Such was public opinion that even when a mentally deranged man entered the compound of the Brickdam Police Station, took away a weapon from the guard and shot some other policemen in the compound, the order was not to kill him.
Incidentally, this deranged man got himself killed in prison after he killed another inmate. He was a former policeman.
Crime raised its head once more to the extent that the foreign missions issued advisories to their people. Crime became an elections issue; the coalition came into office and immediately tackled the situation. The police kept reporting a decline in crime.
Then there were the attacks on people leaving the commercial banks. People would withdraw their money, leave the bank and be attacked. Recently, three men got robbed after leaving the bank. The police had no clue about the perpetrators. Minister Khemraj Ramjattan got so angry that he spoke about a sting operation to nab these people.
Thursday’s incident was another attempt to rob a man who had left a commercial bank. The police reported that a patrol was in the vicinity of the bank when it spotted some suspicious looking men. The police claimed that they saw these suspicious men follow the man who happened to head to the seawalls.
The result is history. The reaction from the public was muted. There were those who said that the situation had got out of hand and that the police had a right to act decisively. But people close to the victims had some searching questions, especially since one of the men had no criminal record.
One of the men had a long rap sheet dating back to 2008. He was linked to a $10 million robbery, the shooting death of two men who had been involved in a game bird fight; and some other crimes.
I was at the scene of the shooting when something surprising happened. Three women turned up because they were convinced that the slain men were their relatives. Reporters at the scene could get no word out of the police, so they had no idea of the identity of the men. Yet these women knew.
How? That is a million-dollar question. Perhaps a policeman at the scene called them. If that is the case, it would suggest that the policeman knew these people. Herein lie more questions. Did the policeman share in the spoils of the robberies?
Whatever the case, these people were notified. One woman was heard on the phone telling someone that it was too early to go to the funeral parlour because the bodies were still on the seawall.
One of the men had no criminal record, but people are now saying that the absence of a criminal record does not mean a law-abiding citizen. I have heard such comments many times. The conclusion is that the person was never caught.
I have been in the courts and I have seen people sentenced for crimes they did not commit. On one occasion I attempted to sympathise with the convicted man, only to be told by him that he did not commit that crime but there were others that he committed but was never caught. And in any case the sentences for those crimes would have been harsher, so he easily rationalized.
But what is it about these bank transactions? In some banks when large transactions are being made, the customer is taken into a private area. One may argue that the sight of someone going to a private area would be a signal to the criminal, but there must be some way to protect the customer who wishes to walk around with large sums of cash.
For the smart businessman, his transactions would either be electronic or with plastic. In fact, many people use plastic. It is safe and secure. I have friends who go to lunch and pay with plastic. The stores are increasingly gearing for plastic and so protect the customer.
But there are those who wish to avoid taxes and therefore rely on cash. I would believe that the days of those businesses are numbered. I have travelled overseas and I have seen cash registers with precious little money, because of the nature of the transactions. In fact, people are reluctant to be caught with large sums of cash because of the likely police action.
My sister nearly refused to take US$500 for a woman overseas. The relative was sending the money. If US$500 is a problem imagine US$5,000. That is why in the rare cases people attack the armoured trucks. The few who attack cash registers would leave with less than US$300.
And as we consider the deaths of those three men, one must wonder whether one has seen the end of people being attacked after leaving commercial banks.
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