Thousands at funeral of slain policeman
By Shirley Thomas
June 23, 2002
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The bereaved relatives of the late Constable Rawle Thomas at his funeral service at St. Stephens Presbyterian Church yesterday. Front left is mother, Pauline Denise Pellew, and his son Rawle Jnr., his wife Laverne Thomas and others. (Pictures by Corwin Williams.)
CONSTABLE Rawle Thomas, the Special Target Squad rank slain while on patrol duty on June 14 at Wismar, was yesterday laid to rest, following a moving funeral service attended by thousands at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Princes and Adelaide Street, Georgetown.
The fifth policeman to have been brutally gunned down in the line of duty, Thomas, like the others - Superintendent Leon Fraser, Detective Sergeant Harry Kooseram; Constable Sherwin Allen and Constable Andy Atwell - was accorded full military honours.
His body was opened for viewing at Merriman’s Funeral Home from 13:00 hours, after which it was removed to St. Stephen’s Church for further viewing from 14:00 hours. The funeral service began at 15:00 hours with the flag draped casket mounted at the front of the church. The mourners who managed to get in the building, inched past with reverence.
The church building was packed to capacity. Those who couldn’t get into the church stood in the churchyard and along the roadside. The funeral cortege into the cemetery extended from Sussex Street in the south, north along Cemetery Road and down into Princes Street towards Hardina Street.
Persons came from Linden and farther afield to pay their last respects to the fallen policeman, and there was a deluge of emotional outpouring. The underlying view was that as one committed to ensuring the safety of others, he had no right to die in the manner he did.
Standing next to the flag-draped casket bearing the remains of Constable 15751 Rawle Thomas during his funeral service: (from front left): Permanent Secretary of Culture, Youth and Sports Keith Booker, (front left); Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs Ms. Angela Johnson; Acting Commissioner of Police, Floyd McDonald; and Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj.
The sentiments expressed at the funeral service of the young cop yesterday were testimony to the observation made by Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj and Commissioner of Police, Floyd McDonald, just two weeks ago, at the Seventh Community Policing Conference. On that occasion, the officials expressed confidence that members of the public are “fully supportive of the work of the police”.
There were several stirring tributes by relatives and colleagues and they described the person who, in the words of Commissioner of Police, Floyd McDonald, “put his life on the line in the interest of this country… one who has shown leadership and courage - our (the Force’s) greatest aim today.”
The young policeman according to his cousin, Conrad Hunte, epitomised the life of a policeman. Ever since he was a boy, he recalled, Thomas was always playing the game of ‘police and thief’. He always chose to be the policeman.
Thomas joined the force on May 5, 1992, and after his initial training, he was posted to Brickdam Police Station and subsequently transferred to Mahdia.
Mr. McDonald recalled that in 2000, as plans were being made to establish a Special Target Unit to combat serious or violent crimes on the increase in the Linden District, Constable Rawle Thomas was the first to volunteer to join that unit.
“He had a no-nonsense approach to policing; made a number of arrests and prosecuted several persons as was required by law,” the Commissioner asserted.
And on the social side, the Commissioner pointed out that “he was a keen sportsman, played volleyball, basketball, cricket, football, was a member of the Upper Demerara Basket Ball Association and Captain of the Police Basketball Team.
“He was very jovial, full of energy,” the Commissioner said, adding that Thomas enjoyed a good relationship with his peers, superiors and members of the public.
Knowing Constable Thomas as he did, and referring to the fateful day, Mr. McDonald said: “I am sure he did not have death on his mind.” “Constable Thomas was carrying out his duties on that day when he was mercilessly gunned down by indiscriminate criminals. He was at the time attempting to rid his district of banditry…. Such is the lot of a policeman or policewoman.”
Noting that criminals have no mercy, and would rob and plunder to get whatever they want, the Commissioner observed: “We have been witnessing a proliferation of gun-led crimes in this country over the last few months. Sophisticated firearms have become weapons of choice for criminals. Our society has to understand that bandits are our enemies.”
He said that it is imperative that all stakeholders work together to rid the environment of the scourge of crime - especially violent crimes.
Citing some of the negative effects crime could have on the country he mentioned:
** Adversely affecting economic activity
** The quality of lives could be affected
** The moral fabric of society could be put in jeopardy
And urging that: “We must, as a nation, bind together and support the law-enforcement agencies to deal with the crime situation,” he beseeched: “We should not let the death of the five slain officers go in vain.”
“Their wives, parents, children, and other relatives are grieving. It is our duty to ensure that this and other crimes committed against our members and civilians are brought to justice.”
Extending profound condolences to the sorrowing relatives of the fallen policeman, the Commissioner concluded: “This is a time for reflection. Let us draw strength from this occasion and rise to the challenges that face us.” He assured them of the continued support of the Guyana Police Force, in this, their dark hour, and God’s promise that He will neither leave nor forsake us.
Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj said that he felt the death of Constable Thomas as a personal loss, having known the parents of the deceased, as well as his in-laws ever since he was a child.
Alluding to the ten years Constable Thomas spent in the Guyana Police Force, he said: “Those were conscientious, dedicated and selfless years of service to his fellowman; to his community; and to his country.”
“That so many people have travelled from Linden to be here with us …this afternoon, speaks volumes about the individual that he is.”
The Minister agreed with Pastor Avril Langford who gave a tribute on behalf of First Assembly of God Church in the scripture: `Train up a child in the right way and when he is old he will not depart from it.’
Gajraj, pleased with the nature and character of young Thomas asserted: To the Sunday school teachers, the school teachers and all those might have been responsible for molding this young man, I want to congratulate you.”
Pastor Langford recalled that Constable Thomas, before being transferred to Linden attended First Assembly of God Church on a regular basis, and also being her neighbour, was under her tutelage. He had accepted God as his personal Saviour and had turned his life over to Christ.
Officiating Pastor Kenneth Applewaithe said that all at St. Stephens have been shocked since last Friday on hearing of the policeman’s death.
“But we believe in a God who is big, and we believe that there is hope, and we believe that God is our Shepherd. We believe that God is alive and all will be well,” he affirmed.