Shots fired as Regent St battle turns bloody
Four constables injured, 11 persons held

Stabroek News
October 25, 2000

Tensions over vending on Regent Street exploded into violence yesterday and four city constables were injured and 11 persons taken into custody.

Vendors have been barred from selling on the Regent Street pavement by an order of the court issued on September 29. Since then, unable to sell, they have staged protest marches, filed an appeal and met President Bharrat Jagdeo on the issue.

Apparently dissatisfied at the lack of movement on the matter, the vendors began returning to Regent Street with their wares. The City Constables have been attempting to prevent this, resulting in tense daily standoffs.

Yesterday, as the battle became physical, members of the City Constabulary fired several shots in the air. Eleven people were arrested and the four constables injured. At a hastily called press conference yesterday, presided over by Mayor Hamilton Green; Deputy Mayor, Robert Williams; and Town Clerk Beulah Williams; the deputy mayor disclosed that among those arrested was well-known protestor Archie Poole. He was later released and treated at the Georgetown Hospital last night for a head wound.

Some vendors had moved their trade to a condemned building at the corner of Regent and Wellington streets about two weeks ago. However when they turned up to vend at this spot on Monday, they saw a new chain-link fence blocking them from continuing their trade. They had openly defied the constables, throwing themselves across wooden palettes they placed across the drain in front of the building. And declaring that they were going to sell, taunted, verbally abused and threatened the constables.

Yesterday, the vendors moved from the condemned building and took up spots along the pavement on Regent Street east of Camp Street. Constables, in a bid to enforce the court ruling, attempted to remove the vendors, and were met with strong opposition. They were pelted with bottles, sticks and stones.

At one point the constables pursued one of the offending vendors into Kwality Supercentre and arrested him and another man.

As constables were making their way from Camp Street west down Regent Street, a female vendor tossed a bottle of Coca Cola at them. The bottle barely missed a constable as it burst on the road. Pursued by the city police, the bottle thrower sought refuge in the compound of the National Bank of Industry and Commerce branch on Regent St.

The female guard on duty promptly closed the gate and refused a constable access to the compound, denying that the vendor was in the yard. However, the constable peered past the guard and saw the woman. He demanded that the gate be opened, the guard again refused and the constable forced the gate open and brought the woman out. Her shirt was torn in front as she struggled with the constable who with help from his colleagues, arrested her.

Several shots were fired in the air at this point. More shots were fired in front of City Hall after vendors and others blocked the entrance of the compound refusing to allow an M&CC vehicle in. The crowd scattered and the vehicle made its way inside.

Mayor Green, questioned as to whether the city police had the authority to enter a private compound, replied that the guard could be charged with aiding and abetting a felony by refusing to allow the constable to arrest the woman. He said if someone committed a felony, then constables had a right to pursue that person regardless of where they went.

Later, ranks of the constabulary disregarded a taunting crowd at the corner of Regent and Wellington streets to arrest a man inside a shop. The man was placed in the M&CC vehicle protesting that he was innocent.

The deputy mayor said at the press conference that the constables had removed three vendors and their goods and had charged them. They are to appear in court shortly.

He said among the offences those arrested faced were throwing missiles, threatening behaviour, damage to property, assault, obstruction and inciting to commit a felony. The deputy mayor said that the constables had been victims of all forms of attack from the vendors and were not prepared to tolerate it any longer. He said the constables had a duty to perform and they would. He asked journalists to note that no vendor had been injured by the constables.

When asked if it was true that Poole was injured as his lawyers claimed, Green and acting Chief Constable Jagdeo Singh said this was not true. However, attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes who said Poole was his client, said he had seen Poole and that he had an injury to his head and was bleeding. Hughes and attorney-at-law Mortimer Codette complained that they had not been able to speak with their client Poole.

The deputy mayor said that there were "elements" with the vendors who were prepared to have confrontation with the constables. He also hit out at what he described as "unprofessional" behaviour of some persons calling themselves journalists. He also said that City Hall would not be involved in discussions with lawless people, who made all kinds of disparaging remarks against senior officials.

Meanwhile, the Working People's Alliance (WPA) in a press statement yesterday said that the party had been advised that a site could be found for the vendors on a piece of land opposite the National Bank of Industry and Commerce on Water Street.

The WPA said while it regretted and disapproved of the acts of violence on both sides yesterday, it would be blind not to recognise that the vendors had been suddenly deprived of the prospect of earning a living.

The piece of land should be acquired after negotiation with the owner and paid for by government, the WPA said, adding that it would be a good investment in business, self-employment, justice and peace.

City constable seriously injured
Had to be pulled from manhole
A constable was stabbed and three of his colleagues also injured when the standoff between the Constabulary and the Regent Street vendors escalated dangerously yesterday.

Thirty-nine-year-old Solomon Taylor of 391 East Ruimveldt Housing Scheme, underwent emergency surgery at the Georgetown Public Hospital late yesterday afternoon after he was stabbed in his lower abdomen with a sharp object, allegedly by a vendor. Up to late last night, Taylor was still being monitored by medical personnel in the operating theatre.

His friend and colleague, Clive Johnson, was treated and sent away after sustaining a cut over his right eye, a stab to his lower back and a slash to the back of his head. Other city police who suffered injuries were Jane Boston of 34 Industrial Site, East Coast Demerara, who is nursing a cut on her right hand and Sergeant Vibert Karl, 44, whose right index finger was injured.

According to Johnson, a Stores Assistant at City Hall, he and Taylor had just gone for lunch at about 1300 hrs and were in the vicinity of the Goodwood Racing Service, Charlotte and Camp streets, when a group of about 20 to 30 persons associated with the vendors armed with ice-picks and a piece of wood with nails attacked them.

Maintaining that they were both unarmed, he recalled that before they could have reacted, the mob descended on them. He said that within seconds, he was stabbed in the back with a sharp object.

He said they were saved by a City Hall vehicle that was in the vicinity. He said he did not see exactly what happened to Taylor.

His work mates revealed that they pulled him out of a manhole.

Boston and Karl recalled that they were on duty at Regent and Wellington streets when a group of people attacked them with broken bottles, pieces of wood and ice-picks.

Boston, 31, said they were "just standing there peacefully" when a brazen woman carrying a broken bottle approached and attempted to hit her in her face. She said she raised her hand in an effort to shield her face and the sharp object cut her on the hand.

Karl said he was hit on the head with a rock. The father of six said the attack was unprovoked. He said that though he was armed, his hand never touched his holster. They, too, were taken to the hospital by the Constabulary vehicle.

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