We must demand justice for all the victims of police brutality
Stabroek News
March 2, 2002

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Dear Editor,

The recent beating up of Mr Mark Benschop, by Senior superintendent of Police Mr Fraser and other members of the notorious black clothes police better known as the death squad, the unnecessary detention of a student of the University of Guyana for a minor traffic offence and the arrest and assault on the husband of a school teacher in South Ruimveldt, in his home and in the presence of his family by a senior police officer are evidence of continuing, institutionalised police misconduct encouraged by the government and the ruling party. Added to this the unprovoked assault on Mr CN Sharma, leader of the Justice for All Party is also a strong indication that state sponsored violence is on the increase.

Most of these unlawful acts took place soon after the 15,000 strong people's march and rally, in Georgetown which was organised by the PNC/Reform, Justice For All party (JFAP) and other groups against extra judicial killings (police murders), and other social ills, including bad governance and also in solidarity with the Leader of JFAP, Mr C.N. Sharma. If Guyana is indeed a democracy, and our rulers had respect for the rule of law this lawlessness by the renegade elements in the police force would have been cause for concern and would have resulted in some form of public disassociation from these excesses. The PPP/C is now in control of the Guyana Police Force. It is clear that the party has made the decision that its political future is dependent not on a democratic political culture and the rule of law, but hinges instead on its ability to maintain an atmosphere of terror in the society. Guyana has once again become a dangerous place to live in.

Stabroek News has on several occasions expressed concern on the culture of violence that presently pervades the police force. Kaieteur News in its editorial of 11.2.2002 captioned "Is Guyana a police state?" captured the mood in the country when it raised this burning question. This editorial was timely and reflective of the growing concerns of Guyanese of all races and social standing, The big question is does government care? My humble opinion is they don't.

The assault on Mr Benschop and the threat to drop him to shoot him took place in front of the Brickdam Police Station and in the presence of members of the public. There were eyewitnesses to this assault and threat to murder, who have spoken out and have written statements honouring their civic duty. The police authorities seem to conveniently forget that when a person/s threatens to kill another, the person/s making the threat has committed a criminal offence and should be charged and brought before the court.

The second assault on Mark Benschop took place in the compound and the walls of the police station. This assault was carried out by three members of the Black clothes policemen in full view of a number of other police officers. In keeping with the prevailing police culture they will remain silent either because they are afraid, or are in support of these unlawful acts. They prefer to disregard their sworn constitutional duty to uphold the constitution and the rule of law.

We saw on national television the injuries that Mr Benschop sustained from the beatings. We also heard several eyewitnesses' testimony which supported Mr Benschop's version of what took place. The police version of what transpired is so ridiculous that it does not warrant repeating. It is the usual drivel; it is an affront to our intelligence and should not be dignified by repeating it here. It is time the police in this country come to understand that they are not dealing with fools.

An equally distasteful aspect of this affair is the spitting in the face of Mr Benschop by police corporal Eustace Abraham aka Robo cop. In any circumstance the spitting in a person's face is unacceptable and must be condemned without reservation. Slavery and colonialism had done a lot of damage to our psyche as a people. In slavery the dehumanizing of the African person was the order of the day. Probably the spitting on other humans had its genesis in slave society, it ought to have no place in Guyana today.

For as long as the leadership of the Guyana Police Force and its political head the Minister of Home Affairs failed to denounce this uncultured and barbaric act, their silence will be construed as another instance of the force's leadership and the political directorate encouraging the renegade elements in the force to engage in new forms of barbarisms against citizens.

There has also been a notable silence on this matter by the privileged section of the society who either do not care (because it is not one of their own who was dehumanized) or who are genuinely afraid to act. Where are those who shout loudly about their pride in being Guyanese while these acts of degradation are taking place? Are they not offended or is it that they prefer to turn a blind eye when national institutions and the personality of the nation are being tarnished by renegade officers in the police force? What a shame.

There is a lesson to be learnt from our own historical experiences and from those of citizens of other countries. It is this: those who commit these heinous crimes become emboldened by the sound of silence resounding around the country. They then increase their assaults on others knowing that it becomes increasingly difficult for those who have not been attacked, to protest out of fear of being attacked in turn. The developments in Nazi Germany underscore this point.

We must demand justice for all the victims of police brutality and state sponsored violence if Guyana is to be saved.

Yours faithfully,

Tacuma Ogunseye