Warning shots fired during funeral procession incident

Guyana Chronicle
April 19, 2001

MOURNERS knocked over police barricades and stoned the PPP/C Freedom House headquarters and the residence of President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday as thousands turned out for the funeral of shot vendor Donna McKinnon.

Although organisers pleaded for discipline during the procession before the throngs left the 1763 Monument Square in Georgetown after the funeral service, a section broke off from the arranged route, threw aside police barriers on Robb Street determined to march past the PPP/C headquarters on the same street.

Police said McKinnon's body was found on Robb Street, Georgetown last week Monday when the massive fire razed almost a block of stores on Regent and Robb streets and investigations were continuing into how she died.

PPP/C officials said Freedom House came under attack from some in the procession who stoned it.

Some among the mourners also stoned the residence of Mr Jagdeo as they passed by and guards fired warning shots in the air, police confirmed.

Four men were also spotted trying to jump the western fence of the compound of the President's house in Queenstown, an official said.

Although much of the procession and service was orderly and peaceful, a group attacked and robbed passengers in a Number 63 bus at Golden Grove, East Coast Demerara where McKinnon was buried late yesterday.

In a statement yesterday, police said that at 17:30 hrs last week Monday, the body of McKinnon, 43, was found in Robb Street with gunshot wounds.

Police said substantial enquiries have been conducted in the area and so far persons living and working in the area have been questioned.

"These include persons associated with the nearby Lodge Hall, a television station and a nearby political party. No eyewitnesses to the discovery or placement of the dead body has come forward to give any assistance", the statement said.

It said the Police Force has made an approach and is awaiting the results of a request to have an independent foreign pathologist to assist them in the investigation.

The Police are also offering a reward of $250,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and preferment of a charge or charges against the person or persons involved in the shooting.

"The Police would also wish to have information which can be of assistance in relation to the shooting or placement of the body.

"Enquiries are also being conducted in the unlawful shooting of Ragnauth Ragoobar, age 27, which occurred on Monday, April 9, 2001 between 14:00 and 14:50 hours at James and Non Pariel streets, Albouystown. Ragoobar was shot dead at his premises", police said.

"Members of the public who might have any information on these incidents are requested to assist by passing such information to the Police on any of the following telephone numbers: (22-68869; 22-53650; 22-61326; 22 61389; 22-67476; 22-52317; 22-53052; 22-62069; 22-52700; 22-56411), or to the nearest Police Station.

"We would wish to assure members of the public that such information would be treated with the strictest confidence."

Police confirmed that a car was set on fire and the driver reportedly assaulted after an incident Tuesday night at the 1763 Monument Square where a wake was being kept for McKinnon.

The car was reportedly owned by a miner and police said they are investigating the incident.

As the body of McKinnon was about to be buried at her hometown Golden Grove well after sunset, things turned sour when the back windscreen of a Number 63 bus was smashed and occupants of the vehicle hurt and reportedly robbed of their possessions.

This caused a build-up of traffic on the already massively congested roadway with vehicles crisscrossed, creating a virtual traffic jam.

It was about 18:45 hrs when the casket eventually arrived in front of the home of McKinnon's parents at Golden Grove and things had continued to go well.

But as the casket was about to be taken to the cemetery, events turned ugly, and the Number 63 bus en route to Berbice was reportedly attacked and occupants robbed.

The occupants of the vehicle which was on the public road near the Golden Grove Market, appeared to have been travelling from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri to Berbice, and were reportedly relieved of items they had.

But since there were only about two police ranks (both outriders) on hand, merely to direct traffic, it took some time before an investigation could be undertaken.

Persons who had accompanied the cortege from Georgetown roundly condemned the incident and clearly had no part in it.

There was a three-hour programme at the 1763 Monument Square, chaired by Mr. Archie Poole, representative of the Justice for Jermaine Committee.

The eulogy was read by daughter of the deceased, Ms Shaundell Solomon who referred to her mother as a "Straight Up person."

Leader of the main Opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R), Mr. Desmond Hoyte gave the final message to the gathering.

Mr. Hoyte noted: "A hard working Guyanese woman has been cut down in the prime of her life, and tragically taken away from her family to whom she was the pillar of support. She was only 43."

He said that ironically, McKinnon was seeking refuge from the confusion created by "irresponsible elements" of the police force.

"The absence of any meaningful action by the authorities to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice; the deafening silence of this atrocity, by an otherwise vocal civil society, and the senseless behaviour of those in government, must be noted by our citizens", he said.

Hoyte noted that, history however, has its lesson for the silence.

He said the question which must now be answered is, "Who killed Donna McKinnon?"

"Is it only the assassin, or is it the system that promotes victimisation, discrimination and marginalisation of our communities, or is it also the system that encourages lawlessness by some sections of the Police Force that thrive on brutally assaulting our citizens?"

"Donna McKinnon," he said, "has now become a symbol of our struggles for freedom from the yoke of oppression, discrimination, victimisation and marginalisation."

Hoyte said, "Guyana cannot prosper unless there is acceptance and demonstration of the fact that Guyana must be for all Guyanese."

He said no public relations programme can wish the inequities in "our system" away.

Among those reading tributes were representatives of vendors, the Justice for Jermaine Committee (JJC), the Guyana Youth and Student Movement (GYSM), youth arm of the PNC/R; the African Cultural Development Association, the National Congress of Women and the PNC/R.

McKinnon's casket was placed for viewing under a yellow and white canopy above which the 1763 Monument towered.

Throughout the programme order was maintained and the Chairman repeatedly insisted that it should be an incident-free day, asserting: "D for Donna and D for Discipline."

Some of the scores of banners and placards carried by mourners read, "We must have Justice"; "If no Justice, No Peace"; "Police Brutality Must Stop".

High above the stage was a huge red banner, "Donna Mc Kinnon Must not Die in Vain; We demand Justice for Donna".

The service concluded around 15:00 hrs with the singing of "We Shall overcome".

The casket draped in the flag of the PNC/R was taken away on a Canter truck on which were McKinnon's sons and daughters.

Leaving the square, the large chanting throngs marched west into Brickdam, turning north into Avenue of the Republic in front of the law courts, with the intention of proceeding north past the Bank of Guyana.

But as the cortege approached the junction of Avenue of the Republic and Robb Street, acting on a request from the children of the deceased, the procession turned east and marched up Robb Street past Freedom House.

There were reports that a woman was injured in the frenzy when the warning shots were fired near the President's residence but police said this could not be confirmed.