I will examine the recent violent occurrences at a number of Afro-Guyanese dominated villages, West Coast of Berbice through the prism of a robbery that occurred at midday of Tuesday, September 8, 2020.
Just before 12 noon, that day, I was walking on the pavement on the southern side of Regent Street between King and Wellington streets.
Suddenly, from behind me, I felt a tug on the right side of my shoulder, as I turned to look around I came face to face with a young man I never saw before. He was not masked. In a matter of seconds, my assailant proceeded to snatch my gold chain from my neck and ran off in a western direction towards King Street and then westerly into Charlotte street.
Clothes, sweets vendors and others at that time, at that section of Regent Street who witnessed the robbery and recognized me, left what they were doing, and gave chase. A few vendors even left their stalls in the care of others and joined the chase.
I too followed the crowd from behind with the man always in my sight. I observed a police traffic rank who was in the vicinity at the time join the chase. He eventually caught up with the suspect on Charlotte Street; the crowd that gave chase gathered around the police and the suspect.
A man in the crowd demanded that the suspect ‘han over de chain.’ Another public-spirited citizen who had given chase all the way searched him. And with the crowd still in control, they demanded that he strip which he did. Some in the crowd said he ‘swallow it,’ others claimed he ‘pouch it’ yet others said ‘he throw it to he friend.’ Another man demanded that he take off his cap and open his mouth. No one ever assaulted the suspect nor mentioned beating him.
The police rank eventually regained control of the situation and told the young man that he was being arrested and taken to the station. I was pointed out as the victim to the police by someone in the crowd and was told to accompany him to Brickdam police station.
The crowd backed off and, seemingly satisfied, allowed the police to execute his duties. Law enforcement won the day in cooperation with law-abiding citizens. A heartfelt ‘thank you’ is extended to all those, including the police traffic rank who gave chase and assisted in apprehending the suspect.
The persons who gave chase to my assailant are all Afro-Guyanese. The police rank who arrested the suspect is Afro-Guyanese. Even though I had been identified, it didn’t matter to any of them who Clement Rohee was politically or ethnically.
What mattered to these persons was that a robbery had occurred in broad daylight, before their very eyes and the need for them to do something about it. In giving chase to the suspect, they did so out of an abundance of anger and frustration, tempered with a high level of support for law enforcement against petty crimes being committed as well as concern for the safety and protection of citizens in general. This delicate balance is discernible.
For almost one week now our country has been rocked by the brutal findings of the bodies of the Henry cousins pointing to a horrendous double murder. At the beginning the outrage was justifiable. Now it is being questioned.
West Coast Berbiceans, particularly in the ‘Black’ villages along the coast, are up in arms over the macabre nature of the incident. The ruling PPP/C and the Guyana Police Force have come under unwarranted attack by some politically inspired APNU operatives.
The rage and anger of villagers, watched via our smart phones or TV was real. It brought into sharp focus the political and racial division that has plagued our country for decades.
Regrettably, the anger turned into riotous behavior, assault and robbery of innocent persons.
I followed on social media Mr. Granger’s and Mr. Harmon’s and Nicolette Henry’s visit to the villages and the mourning relatives of the deceased. I listened carefully to what they had to say.
Harmon told his audience: “Your response is a correct response don’t let anyone come here and tell you what you’re doing is wrong.”
Granger for his part exhorted; “We need to establish a self-defence society and you will hear more from us about that”.
Granger’s and Harmon’s audience knew exactly what they meant with their undisguised provocative and racially laced remarks. Together, they opportunistically and maliciously interjected the race card in the midst of a potentially explosive situation that had all the ingredients of exploitative and selfish politics whatever the cost to our nation
Granger and Harmon wasted no time in weaponizing the murder of the two youths. They used the opportunity to incite their audiences to wage an undeclared vendetta against the PPP/C supporters.
Both Granger and Harmon are former members of the military and the intelligence community. They must be aware of the horrendous effect their words would have on traumatized villagers looking for leadership and to be told who should be accused where blame is to be placed.
Granger and Harmon knew exactly what they were doing. Cast in the role of bitter losers and malcontents, they chose to offer the bitter cup to the gullible and to encourage unlawful behavior with selfish objectives in mind.
During my tenure as Minister of Home Affairs and following the Lusignan massacre in January 2008, thousands came out protesting on the East Coast public road. They blocked the road and burnt tyres.
For almost an entire week the protests went on. People were angry and fearful. The question was who or where next?
The police ranks on the ground acted with tremendous restraint. Leroy Brummell was the divisional commander at that time. As the commanding officer he was deliberate and firm with his instructions to his subordinates.
At Bath settlement, protesters blocked the public road and lit fires, they declared they were protesting in solidarity with their brothers and sisters on the East Coast. Things got out of hand when the police fired tear gas into the crowd. That made matters worse.
The protests at Lusignan and Bath settlement ended almost simultaneously. Those arrested and detained were passed through the courts and the cases dismissed.
Although these are areas known to be supportive of the PPP, the protesters were harsh in their criticisms of the party whom they had voted for in the 2006 elections. They blamed the government for not doing enough to protect them. The GPF came in for their fair share of the blame.
There was also the case with police action against protesters who were blocking the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge in July 2012. The announcement by government that there would be a hike in electricity rates coupled with heavy political incitement triggered blocking the bridge at several points. Persons going about their business were unlawfully denied access to the bridge while some were physically assaulted and beaten.
TSU ranks of the GPF were deployed. Shots were fired randomly and three persons were killed. A Commission of Inquiry was established. Several recommendations were made in respect to crowd control, training and the use of force by the police.
In July 2014, a group of protestors claiming to be defenders of the interest of rice farmers blocked the road with tractors and debris at Three Friends, Land of Plenty and Anna Regina on the Essequibo Coast. Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Twenty persons were charged with riotous behavior and put before the court. Dialogue was initiated between the Ministry of Agriculture, the millers and farmers with a view to arriving at a solution favorable to the farmers.
In September, 2013, protestors blocked the roadway at Ituni and the Kwakwani waterfront with logs and coconut tree trunks, claiming the deplorable state of the roads. Fourteen persons were arrested with unlawfully blocking the roadways. The matter was resolved following meetings held between the rice farmers, the RDC, and the Guyana Police Force.
A national conversation is needed on race, and on inter and Intra community relations. There has been plenty of talk on race relations but listening, which should be the first, is regrettably in short supply.
The more challenging part is reconciliation at the economic, social and cultural levels. Criminal activities and investigations into criminal activities can be marred by political influences, a permanent feature of the Guyanese landscape
The call for a ‘coming together’ by stakeholders including the political parties does not mean their coming together organizationally, on the contrary, it simply means all sides must call for the same thing at the same time, in an atmosphere characterized by tolerance, patience, mutual respect and upholding law and order.
Inclusivity has been given life at the top, but equally important, it must go hand in hand with consultative democracy at the bottom.
We cannot continue living in a society where political leaders in the PNC continuously engage in conspiracy theories and apocalyptic warnings about race which they see in every nook and cranny and sold over a verandah in a village at West Coast Berbice.
If there is a single unifying element that is missing from the ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny’ national motto is identity and work to reduce and gradually eliminate the circumstances that lend to the reoccurrence again and again to these cycles of racial and ethnic insecurity.
Clement J. Rohee
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