Angry crowd besieges city
Some seven injured in clashes with police
By Charlene Stuart and Samantha Alleyne

Stabroek News
March 27, 2001

Shots were fired, some seven persons injured and the army called out as an angry and disorderly mob faced-off with the police in the vicinity of the Supreme Court for over three hours yesterday.

Injured are Rawle Thomas, 28, of 3065 North Ruimveldt, Clebert Barry, 29, of Sophia, Kurt Parris, 30, of 86 Laluni Street, Queenstown, Robert Lyte, 39, of 82 Laluni Street, Rolex Hurry, 32, of 481, South Ruimveldt, all in Georgetown, Kevin King, 26, of Land of Canaan, East Bank Demerara, and Jermaine Sampson, 23, of 73 Annandale, East Coast Demerara.

What started off as a small orderly grouping erupted into a large uncontrollable crowd at about 1430 hrs when rumour of a shooting at Weldaad, West Coast Berbice, spread among the gathering.

For most of the morning, the group consisting mainly of women, who braved the hot sun and carried on light conversation among themselves. Even the traffic build up in the area failed to cause any reaction. In fact, the only movement recorded during that period was a fistfight between two women, one of whom was arrested. This was followed by what appeared to be an insane woman shadow-boxing with another crowd member.

However, the adjournment of court for lunch changed all that.

As television personality, Mark Benschop, emerged from the courtyard presumably to give word to those waiting, they jumped over and broke down police barricades, which had separated them into three sets, in an attempt to hear what was being said.

The unarmed police who were outnumbered at this point, stood there helplessly as the `Straight Up' host addressed his audience. After informing them that Chief Justice, Desiree Bernard was going to rule in the "masses favour", he sauntered off causing them to follow him.

Probably sensing that it was getting out of control, like a prophet, he turned, raised his hand and urged them to reassemble beyond the protective barriers. This instruction was adhered with little hesitation.

Vowing to stay near the High Court until they heard word, the group ate lunch under various shades until Chief Justice Bernard reconvened for the afternoon session. At about 2:30 pm, the rumour of the shooting at Weldaad had circulated among the crowd. The source of the rumour was unclear. However, people became very vocal calling for PNC REFORM leader, Desmond Hoyte and shouting insults about President-elect, Bharrat Jagdeo.

"No Desi, more war", was their chant for over half an hour before someone give an instruction for them to circle the court. Apparently dissatisfied with this achievement, someone shouted "Shut the city down".

The group, which now numbered over 400 ran towards the Stabroek Market forcing fruit vendors and some opened stores to hurriedly call it a day. Because most of the shops had not opened for businesses, another order was given for them to head to Freedom House, the PPP headquarters. En route, a group of young men threw an unknown object at the Esso gas station, Wellington Street, breaking the show window and forcing pump attendants and customers to seek cover.

At this time, the Riot Squad and the Target Special Force which were very present on Saturday, were notably absent.

"Discount should have opened cause I need a pair of shoes", one female member of the crowd proclaimed as they dominated Regent Street.

"All I want is two tins of milk for my grandchildren," another said.

Again because most of these establishments were closed, these desires went unfulfilled. Freedom House grew more appealing then.

The crowd assembled for some ten minutes in front of CNS Channel 6--since barricades were erected at Freedom House--despite pleas from a self-appointed leader to go home. Target Special Force members then appeared and managed to break up the group when they fired two warning shots in the air.

But these initial discharges only made an impression for a short while. They re-grouped at Regent and Wellington streets. The law enforcement men asked them to disperse, another instruction they failed to heed.

Asked why they were protesting, two members of the crowd said they had no idea.

A shower of rain and another round of bullets did the trick momentarily and then the determined crowd, which was growing at every movement reassembled at Manget Place and Croal Street.

Under the eyes of some police ranks, a group of young men dragged debris, tree stumps, fibre and wood in the middle of the street and lit it.

A foreign photographer who attempted to capture this scene had to take off his camera and "back off" when the irrational group decided to throw a burning barrel at him. The First Federation Building also became a target, when a member of the group noticed an employee in the building with a telephone.

"We gun bun that building", he threatened.

Five minutes later Target Special Forces reappeared and fired shots indiscriminately at the crowd, while another set of officers attempted to out the flames with an empty fire extinguisher. The fire service arrived five minutes later and put the flames out.

Everyone fled the scene once again but re-converged at the South Ruimveldt mini bus park. Although they were quite vocal, hurling insults at the police, there was no retaliation.

Their bravery resurfaced though at the sight of five vehicles containing army personnel. Turning towards the policemen, they shouted and began pelting them with bottles. Officers from the Riot Squad retaliated with tear gas.

As evening approached, the mob thinned and only small bands of mainly youths were seen in the vicinity of the Kitty/Campbellville and the Lodge/South bus parks.

Stabroek News witnessed an incident where a young man was robbed. Spraying a noxious substance in the air, the youths tried to relieve him of a thin gold chain as he was purchasing a drink from a vendor at the park.

He unsuccessfully fought with them while the vendor urged them to desist from such activities, to no avail. Instead they whipped out cutlasses and knives and warned the vendor to "keep out."

This distraction allowed for the escape of the robbery victim. On intervention by vendor's friend and his screaming 11-year-old daughter he was spared any harm.

After this episode the agitated lads once again turned their attention to officers of the Riot Squad who were standing on Croal Street.

They pelted them with bricks and bottles, which obviously angered the law enforcement officer. They advanced menacingly in an effort to disperse the group, but this proved futile as the mob continued to pelt and taunt them. Tear gas was again fired, which proved effective.

A cellular phone was stolen from the handbag of one of this newspaper's reporters as she fled from the tear gas.

A Stabroek News photographer was also thrown into the drain at the corner of Robb and King Streets by the small crowd, which was gathered there. A part of his camera was damaged.

Meanwhile, the Guyana Police Force in a press release stated that "It is fairly obvious that rumors and blatant untruths are circulating in the media. It is time to call a halt to this practice."

The release was referring to the incidents on the East Coast Demerara last week where there were clashes between police officers and residents.

The release said police officers in that area had received a report that some persons were threatening a man holed up in the a post office building at Buxton and as a result a senior officer and a party of police were dispatched. Upon arrival they found the man, who identified himself as a clerk to an election official.

According to the release the officers appealed to the crowd to be calm and allow the clerk to come out but they refused and the officers were forced to call for support and a larger party of policemen were dispatched. Another man, who was with the clerk, was found at a Health Centre and both persons were taken into protective custody but the vehicle were taken away and not recovered until later that evening with the battery missing.

The release also stated that a personal vehicle of a senior police officer was also stoned and damaged.