Some editorial conclusions are unjustified

Stabroek News
August 24, 2001

Dear Editor,

I don't want to join the debate about police killings. The intention of my letter here is to invite social scientists to investigate Stabroek News methodologies when it makes social analysis on the police force. So outrageous are some of Stabroek's conclusions, that the paper makes a mockery of a valuable tool of social investigation, that is social science methodology.

Anyone who knows this society will tell you that doing a survey in this country is a complex process and the investigator has to be meticulous. And the reason is simple: Guyana's demographic structure is not one that allows for easy analysis. For example, you do an opinion survey in Berbice about the PNC, your findings will be different than those of Demerara. Vice versa for the PPP. It is within this context, I question Stabroek's assertion in its last Sunday edition that, " no one trusts the Black Clothes police...."

Who says so apart from the Stabroek? I saw a platoon of the Black Clothes at the Parika market junction last Sunday, and people were coming up to them and just chatting away with them. The policemen came out of the vehicle and began selling barbecue tickets to the crowd and unsolicited people came up and bought the tickets. This occurred at about 12.45 pm. outside the Two Brothers Restaurant. I stood from my cafe table inside the restaurant and watched the event as it unfolded. Again I ask the question: who says no one trusts the Black Clothes Squad?

Anyone who lives in the countryside of Guyana will tell you that far from distrusting the Black Clothes, they would welcome them in their villages. When you think of how easy prey the country folks are for vicious criminals, Stabroek's statement is extremely offensive.

The SN says that no witness would risk his/her life coming forward to give evidence against the BC guys. Yet it was this very paper in its Sunday editorial of August 19 that wrote about the accounts eyewitnesses gave it. In these accounts, these witnesses, very early one morning, stood in close physical proximity to the BC group as they were "murdering" three men. Now how come these very people are afraid of the BC police but are not afraid to stand up nonchalantly and watch them commit murder? This makes no sense at all.

I am putting it to the Stabroek News that if there are Guyanese people out there who are in mortal fear of the BC elite cabal, there is no way they are going to stand up and look at the BC police killing people; they are going to run.

Let's look at more of Stabroek's vast array of social science methodologies. In that very issue of August 19, readers are told that Stabroek's eyewitnesses were credible because the storytellers were not related to each other and did not know each other. But how does Stabroek know this? Of course they were told this. But did they check this out? If Smith said he did not know King and that he Smith lived in West Coast Berbice, did Stabroek check his address? How trained are Stabroek's reporters in Guyanese political sociology?

In each district of Guyana, there is a particularized sub-culture. If the Guysuco security shoot an estate worker in a particular village that is dependent on sugar, no eyewitness is going to come forward in support of the security guard. This is the nature of Guyanese political sociology. Why Stabroek feels that the people of West Ruimveldt will run to the paper assigning blame to civilians when the police have hurt them in a confrontation? In some districts in Guyana, the police are resented and no matter what they do the district folks are not going to say anything in the police's favour.

This was exactly my argument with Adam Harris. And I even accused Harris of being biased against the BC squad so that he wouldn't write anything in their favour. This is what we have arrived at right now. Some journalists are so biased against the elite group that they are prepared to throw scientific and universally tested methodologies out of the window. Added to this is the fact that the district folks know this and are willing and prepared to fool reporters who they know will buy their story. We have an interesting parallel at the moment; tall stories from the police whenever they kill a criminal. And a group of media people who are prepared to report any twisted account of tainted eyewitnesses.

The Stabroek News is not the only media house that sends out its people to talk to observers of events. So many of us do it on a daily basis and you have to take a fine tooth comb with you. It is a jungle out there, and one has to be careful to distinguish the different types of animals.

Yours faithfully,
Frederick Kissoon

Editor's note
With reference to the credibility of witnesses, Stabroek News arrived on the scene on the first occasion not long after the shooting occurred. According to Mr Kissoon, therefore, one would have to believe that people who witnessed the incident from different vantage points came together soon afterwards to concoct a story which was broadly consistent in its details, specifically with a view to misleading the media. Such consistency about the specifics of a sequence of events in the immediate aftermath of those events, certainly would not have been possible without prior agreement.

Furthermore, if they were going to plot to discredit the police, why should they all report that a bag which had been removed from the car and which had been opened by the police on the road, contained weapons? Why not say they saw no weapons? And why too, should they state that they witnessed a member of the force remove a gun from the man who was backed up against a stall? Why not just say that the man appeared to be unarmed?

In the first part of his letter, Mr Kissoon suggests that the Black Clothes police are popular. If that is so, then why should witnesses come together with such alacrity to fabricate detailed lies about them? However, when he comes to deal with the actual motives for such alleged fabrications, he posits that in some districts the police are resented. He cannot have it both ways.

Mr Kissoon says that this newspaper has not conducted any sociological surveys about the popularity of the Black Clothes police. True enough, but in Georgetown, at least, where this killing occurred, one would not have thought that was necessary. The Target Special Squad in particular has been associated with a series of killings about which questions have been raised, and one might have thought that that would be sufficient to give them an unsavoury reputation.

As far as the witnesses not running away is concerned, the shootings happened quickly, and the police themselves did not hang around afterwards. There were several people in the area at the time, and the police were obviously not concerned about them. In previous cases mostly no one but relatives of the dead have identified themselves as witnesses, even where the evidence is of a more circumstantial nature than in this instance. The Mandela avenue case is not an isolated one; it is part of a pattern of police killings which have come under question.