The America street robbery

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
September 27, 1999

In what was probably the most terrifying and daring robbery the country has ever seen, four heavily armed bandits grabbed millions of dollars from an America Street cambio on Wednesday, covering their escape with a hail of bullets which injured five persons, including a policeman. The bandits were masked and wore bullet-proof vests. We asked the man/woman-in-the-street to comment on the topic. Their views follow:

Norma St Hill - self-employed: `The bandits' shooting spree in America Street and the shoot-out between the police and robbers in the canefields say that crime has reached a level which people thought the country would have never reached. We should be concerned about its implications for society. We cannot divorce this latest incident from the escalating violence in society. How is this to be addressed? For years people have been talking about corruption in the police force. [The] known relationship of police officers and criminals is giving the impression that a certain set of criminals are protected by the police themselves. So the first step in solving some of the crimes may be a major overhaul in the police force from top to bottom. Secondly, it was evident that the police is not well-equipped to cope with the sophisticated weapons being used by bandits. The botched attempt by the security forces to take in the robbers only undermines the people's confidence in the security force. Addressing the issue of crime is not only a matter for government but for all with vested interest in the society. Anything else is a recipe for disaster.'

Rajendra Bedessie - self-employed: `The bandits' rampage on America Street came as a surprise to me because the place is covered with lots of armed guards because of the nature of the business in the area. This leaves me to ask how secure is the area. I think efforts by the police and the army were well-intentioned and they tried, but because of a lack of modern weapons and equipment they could not do better. If they had cordoned off the area and the bandits were within I cannot see how they escaped. I do not think that the safety of the nation lies only with the police and the government, but with we as a people as well. I think that robberies are more daring and strategies for dealing with these violent robberies should be foremost in the minds of government and the security forces.'

Rawle Harcourt - self-employed: `America Street is a business place where a lot of money including foreign currency circulates. One policeman cannot patrol the area. They should not only be heavily armed but they should be equipped with communication sets to call in back up in the event of emergencies. America Street has a lot of watchmen with no proper security personnel. One or two might be armed with a revolver, so what can they do? From the first time they attacked Neville Sarjoo and took away his cambio money I was waiting for what next [was] to happen. I was not really caught by surprise. The next place the bandits might be attacking will be the commercial banks. The banks must be prepared with well-equipped armed security personnel.'

Anand Persaud - superviser: `Crime is completely out of hand. Government must recognise the needs of the police force, and the local business community must pitch in their lot. During the security forces dragnet it was obvious that they were outmatched by the bandits. Then we have to ask ourselves whether the black-out in the area was by co-incidence or by design. How was it that the bandits got away driving and shooting? Did anyone shoot after the vehicle while it was getting away. I think that the government should equip a special task force comprising officers or ranks from both the police and the Guyana Defence Force who should be paid super-salaries to deal with situations like these. The level of drug trafficking, robberies committed using high-powered weapons are all factors that must be taken into consideration when dealing with strategies to cope with what was just witnessed on America Street and in the canefields.'

Ashley Chung - driver/salesman: `I think that the country is becoming too lawless. The main reason is because people are not getting jobs and more are getting laid off. This is coupled with the fact that salaries being paid are not sufficient because of the rising cost of living. Prison wardens are bribed because their salaries are low. Harsh penalties must be meted out to certain criminals. Even visitation rights must be taken away from some who are likely to plan their own escape with assistance from both inside and outside the prison walls. If they can plan their escape they can mastermind operations from within the walls with the use of telephones. Imagine an escaped prisoner being given the privilege of a cellular for $50,000?'

T. Wong - self-employed: `The America Street robbery is encouraging other robbers to do the same or plan even bigger robberies. Other robbers will say if they can escape, then we can do it too. The police is not capable of matching the sophisticated weapons the robbers are now equipped with. In addition, crimes of this nature have never occurred here so we do not have policemen with the experience to deal with such crimes... Definitely our policemen need more training, because the policeman's job is a high-risk one. Government must look to paying the police far higher salaries than they receive and they must be better equipped.'

Akiva Williams - horticulturalist: `All of the plan was well-orchestrated and basically everything went according to plan. In order to prevent another occurrence government must now put more money into policemen's salaries and in equipment. Government must be prepared to equip a special unit of highly-trained men with high salaries. This incident caught me by surprise and it paints a very bad picture for visitors and tourists coming to Guyana. The attack also shows that the business community is under siege. It is not good for Guyana because foreigners or even local businesses will not want to invest in Guyana.'

Harold Baptiste - farmer: `The whole thing is not good. For a little country like Guyana it is terrible. When foreigners hear about incidents like this it would just chase them away. Even ordinary people like myself are afraid to walk the streets to do shopping. There is pure slackness in the security forces. I cannot see how they allowed the robbers to get away. Government too is slack because they cannot allow the policemen to use pistols against the robbers' automatic weapons. By the time the policeman pulls the trigger, the automatic could riddle the policeman's body with a hundred bullets. Government must realise that the police force must be able to meet force with equal force or more. Christmas is just a few more weeks away and business will need to be more security conscious. The police need to deploy more men on the streets because the bandits will be looking for all the loopholes they can find to escape and plan their get-away. When bandits escape those of us who live on the outskirts of the city or in the countryside do not feel safe. We feel threatened.'

Maurice Mercurius - teacher: `This incident should be a wake-up call to government to recognise that people are desperate. Unless the government and law enforcement agencies get together and work out some policy or system that will help to release the frustrations that people are experiencing, then there will be increasing incidents such as these. Many people have lost all respect for law and order. They will no longer stay at home and go without money and see their families starve. They will do whatever they consider is necessary to keep their families going and even to set them up for life.'

Rainer King - pastor: `I don't believe that the country should accept these crimes. We're living in perilous times and people need to be more god-fearing in his wisdom. Violent incidents like these bring fear to people's hearts. Not everyone possesses great faith so we as a nation must stand against violence and crime and see that our people are protected according to the scriptures. We must not depend on government or the police alone to protect ourselves.'

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples