– Joint Services urge residents to remain calm or face escalation in response
What started out as a protest for justice to be served for 16-year-old Isaiah Henry and 18-year-old Joel Henry, the cousins whose butchered bodies were found in the Cotton Tree, West Coast Berbice backdam, turned out to be absolute chaos and horror for drivers, passengers and people living in Region 5 yesterday.
Roads throughout Bellevue, Number 40 Village, Number 28 Village, Number 30 Village, Hopetown, Burma, Number 3, 4 and 5 Villages were blocked since Sunday night and hundreds of persons who were either heading to Region 6 or heading to Georgetown were stuck in traffic. However, despite heavy police presence, people who were stuck in the lines waiting for the road to clear became victims of robbery and racially fuelled attacks. Several reports reaching Kaieteur News have since revealed the extent of the attacks as many are now suffering from injuries about their bodies including chop wounds. There were also multiple reports and pictures that surfaced showing car windscreens smashed in, vehicles hijacked, and paddy trucks set alight. This publication was told that people were attacked physically and verbally with racial remarks thrown at them, including several who were stripped of their clothing, beaten and robbed before being set free.
According to a 30-year-old truck driver from Bushlot Village, West Coast Berbice, he was stuck in traffic with his truck on Sunday while his uncle who was driving a Toyota Voxy was also in the line. He stated that his uncle was pulled out from his car at Belladrum Village and beaten. He disclosed that his uncle’s car was then taken away from him and until now, they do not know where the vehicle is. The truck driver stated that up to late yesterday afternoon, they received reports that a car was burning in the Number 28 backdam, but they could not go since the situation was hostile and the roads were still blocked with debris and fires. He added too that while the Guyana Defence Force soldiers arrived to assist the police, “they were driving fast and clearing the road but no soldier or police stayed behind to ensure everyone pass so when they drive up ahead, the people start blocking back the road and people were trapped in between again.”
He stated that the roads had blockades at Burma, Eldorado, Belladrum, Paradise, Seafield, Litchfield, Kingly, Ross Village, Number 30 Village, Number 28 Village, Lovely Lass Village, Number 22 Village, Hopetown and Numbers 5, 3 and 4 Villages.
Meanwhile, three persons who were attacked in the vicinity of the Burma blockade had to be rescued by a public spirited citizen and given shelter and clothing. A woman who wanted her identity sealed stated that an old man who was heading home from work with his bag was stripped of this clothing and beaten about his body and head. His bag and wallet with money were stolen the woman said, adding that “this man was rescued naked because they stripped all of his clothes, robbed him and beat him so bad and then they told him to walk, so our lives don’t matter anymore.” The woman stated that shortly after another man had to be rescued, after he was beaten about his head with a hammer and gashed on his arms with cutlass, with blood all over his face and body when he was rescued. Another man who was in a bus with other passengers was said to be returning to Berbice from an interior location and he had with him a large sum of cash, all of which was stolen.
One driver told this publication that the protestors smashed the windows of vehicles that were parked since Sunday night and pulled out occupants from the cars and buses. They then proceeded to beat the passengers and the drivers and take whatever they could from them.
In addition to the string of attacks on people, at least three paddy transport trucks were set on fire. One of the owners told this publication that she only bought her truck last year at a cost of $5.5 million and was paying monthly instalments for it, but all of her hard-earned money and investment went up in flames yesterday. Her truck was set on fire leaving just the burnt out shell; the driver and porter had to be rescued. According to the truck driver, he had a cutlass to his neck and a hammer placed on his head and was directed to park the truck across the roadway and hand over the keys. He stated that he complied, “until I turn the truck and jump out the truck, they demanded for the keys. They told me because I am a black man, they na gon do me nothing but this is a coolie truck. They lit the truck first, out it and break it up and burst the fuel tank so the fuel can drain out and then light it back.”
He said he was given money by the persons who rescued him so that he could catch public transportation and return home to Region 6.
“I felt bad that I was attacked by my own,” he said, “They are depriving me of my money; we all are doing this thing wrong. I tried to run from these people, but it didn’t work. Cars were destroyed, Indians’ car. I slept at the people that rescued us and they gave us passage, I saw police and I ask that they give us a lift at Cotton Tree, and I went and made a report about the truck burning.”
Meanwhile, the other two trucks that were burnt, were set alight in the presence of GDF and GPF ranks who did not attempt to stop the protestors from setting it on fire. During a live video streamed on Facebook, a resident was seen trying to extinguish the blaze. The trucks were transporting paddy and according to an eyewitness, the truck drivers were told to empty the paddy on the roadway before they set the truck on fire. Protestors were seen bagging the paddy on the roadway for themselves.
The driver of a Bakewell truck was also attacked. He said in a Facebook post, “I can understand that justice is needed, but ain’t there another way to get it done. [D]o we really need to be this stupid, the truck that brings the bread to the Berbician, one of the best breads that the whole country is familiar with, y’all going to damage and destroy the property? [A]nd call that seeking justice. The same bread that everyone buys to eat, the truck that delivers the bread, we will damage the truck. Is this justice? Is this wise to do? Come on people, we are better than this.”
Police in a joint statement with the Guyana Defence Force yesterday said that they continue to view with serious concern on the ongoing “illegal protest action” being carried out by residents. They made it clear that the protests are illegal and represent a threat to the public safety of Guyanese traversing the roadways and “the robbing of citizens and damaging public property will not result in a solution to the problem but rather cause unnecessary and unwanted tension and anger. This will most certainly distract attention from a proper and professional investigation intended to bring those responsible for these heinous crimes to justice.” They also noted that the gatherings are in breach of the COVID-19 guidelines and as such are reminded that should the situation persist further, “the GPF will have no alternative but to escalate its response to have the roadways cleared and ensure the return of law and order in the affected communities”. They are calling on residents to remain calm as the investigations intensify into the deaths of the two boys.
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