Political attacks on police
Focus on Guyana and Jamaica By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
April 14, 2002

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IN EVERY police service, in the poor as well as in the rich countries of the world, there are good cops and bad cops. It would also be true to say that this is not a peculiarity of just a police force. They are good and bad people in every profession, including politics, law and the media.

But this may seem a rationalisation for wrongdoings, of whatever nature, ranging from corruption to abuse of power that could result also in unlawful deaths.

The focus of this week's column is to remind readers of the grave implications for the rule of law when overt and covert attempts are made to politicise the Police Force of any country.

More specifically, as is currently the experience in Caribbean Community states like Guyana and Jamaica, where the police are being chastised by politicians in pursuit of their own narrow, self-serving agendas.

And the politicians are doing so at a period when criminals are on the warpath, engaging in some of the most daring, frightening acts of murder, rape, violence, hijackings, armed robberies and, generally, causing fear and grief among urban and rural communities, while governments and the business sector remain anxious about the negative fall-outs for investment and economic development.

In Jamaica, where political tribalism has for many years involved clashes between gunmen of both major parties and the law enforcing agencies, and the `dons’ have often made a mockery of the justice administration system, there is a current tension brought on by allegations from Edward Seaga's Labour Party

The JLP leader, a former Prime Minister who openly boasts that his party will be back in power at coming elections after a dozen years in the wilderness of opposition politics, has not only been targetting his salvos at the Crime Management Unit (CMU) of the country's police force, and specifically its controversial head, Senior Superintendent Reneto Adams. Seaga has gone as far as claiming to have "evidence" of a collusion between the Police Force and Prime Minister P.J. Patterson's People's National Party in the "training" of policemen to facilitate the disruption of public meetings of his JLP to frustrate its chances at the polls.

It was all too much, not just for new National Security Minister Peter Phillips, who dismissed Seaga's claim as being irresponsible and inflammatory. The allegation is reported to have influenced the reversal of a decision by the executive body of the Jamaica Police Federation for the JLP leader to address the annual conference of the Federation on May 28.

After last July's gun battles in the West Kingston area between the Adams-led Crime Management Unit and armed criminals, that wasted the lives of some 26 persons and caused injuries to 40 others, the JLP was particularly harsh in its condemnation of the controversial cop. Its demands for the dismantling of the CMU that the party's leadership view as some kind of aberration, were to be quite strident.

PNC vs Police
In Guyana, the main opposition People's National Congress Reform now seems quite anxious not only to be identified with fallen criminal elements, at the hands of the local police. It has threatened trouble if it does not get its way in what should be done against the policemen it dislikes and the mechanisms they use to combat criminality.

Law and order has, consequently, been put on notice as this column was being written with an ultimatum from that party, one which ruled for 28 years and had the Police Force crippled by a doctrine of "party paramountcy". We shall see how events unfold as the security forces remain on alert.

The ultimatum, which followed the shooting death of a Buxton villager and former soldier, Shaka Blair, a loyalist of the PNC, is for the PPP/Civic government to disband the Target Special Squad of the Anti-Crime Unit of the Police Force, more popularly known and feared as the controversial "black clothes police".

Throwing discretion to the wind, seemingly unmindful of what unreasonable and inflammatory statements could do, but aware of the readiness of sections of the print and electronic media to feed their consumers with whatever accusations they have to offer, the PNC/Reform had some sensational things to say at a public meeting last week in Georgetown.

Its leader, Desmond Hoyte, was categorical: "It is the duty of all Guyanese to put an end to this foul operation of the Guyana Police Force. Shaka's murder was a murder that was most foul and it must be laid fair and square at the feet of the PPP/Civic government...."

Hoyte said more than that. But I am restricted by my own awareness of the laws of libel and respect for the rights of others being personally vilified in a case involving the anti-crime special squad and death of a man allegedly implicated in criminal acts.

A firm rejection to that ultimatum was given before its scheduled expiration at midnight on Thursday. It came from the man in the government that the PNC/Reform loves to hate, Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Secretary to the Cabinet and Secretary of the Defence Board.

The message was clear: No way will the government encourage the dismantling of the anti-crime special squad. It would not be in the national interest.

Certainly not now, with the upsurge in violent crimes, the spate of hijackings and robberies, the manhunt for five armed and dangerous criminals who escaped from the Georgetown Prison, the murder of tough crime fighter Leon Fraser (perhaps as feared and respected as Jamaica's Reneto Adams).

Dangerous Politics
No, not now when the Force is being ridiculed and held up as an "enemy force" by the very party to which it has been so consistently loyal in its political support at elections. How ironical, dangerous and painful the political games some play.

Unlike Jamaica, where the JLP's leadership felt obliged to exercise some restraint, even after the appalling tragedies of West Kingston in July 2001, the mood being generated in Guyana by the opposition PNC is one of posing a threat to law and order.

This in the wake of plans to make of Blair's funeral tomorrow another political event, while five armed fugitives remain at large, having killed a prison warder, critically wounded another, and believed to have been involved, with collaborators, in the murder of Superintendent Fraser, and the recent series of hijackings and robberies.

There are examples of parties, whether in Jamaica or Guyana, making martyrs of some who die at the hands of the police.

In the case of Guyana, a party and its leader had found time to attend the funeral of one of the country's most notorious criminal leaders in many years, Linden `Blackie’ London.

He was killed in a sensational shoot-out that lasted for hours at his fortress hide-out. But he was to receive, courtesy of the PNC/Reform, a hero's funeral, his coffin draped with the national flag, the Golden Arrowhead.

In contrast, no public expression of even regret over the murder by criminals of Superintendent Fraser. Nor did any of those making loud threats over Blair's death had any time for Fraser's funeral. Those "leaders" of civil society organisations who have failed to let their voices be heard when Fraser was murdered should be reminded of the danger of such cowardly behaviour.

Such is the tragic political culture in today's Guyana, spawned over many years by the doctrine of "party paramountcy" and its related products - electoral fraud, corruption, non-accountability and general misuse and abuse of state institutions and agencies, right up to 1992.

Now they beat their chests and talk piously about rule of law, democratic rights and justice. The independent observer would be inclined to laugh. But it is really a very distressing time when resistance may be the only way to avoid a slide back into that wretched era of the past.

Jamaicans and Guyanese, across the political divide, who put country before party politics and sectional interest, will know why the rule of law must triumph over those firing salvos at a Police Force, where good men and women continue to risk their lives, every day, in the interest of a safe and civilised environment.