Blind spot Editorial
Stabroek News
January 13, 2002

With respect to the matter of extra-judicial killings by the police, the President was recently reported in the Chronicle of January 12 as saying that what was worrying was that policemen were tried even before they had had a chance to tell their side of the story. "I don't have a problem with an inquest and the investigations being done, but as soon as it happens you already have a trial," he was quoted as saying. "They don't know the circumstances under which the police have had to use force in some cases... they simply come to the conclusion that once someone dies, it's extra-judicial killing." He went on to remark that in the vast majority of cases, "it becomes either a political case, someone with an axe to grind or some media personality fulfilling his megalomaniac ego."

Leaving aside the unpresidential tenor of the last-quoted comments, it is clear that both the President and the Government he represents have a blind spot where criticism of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) is concerned. They seem to have been distracted by the opposition fusillade about the killings having a sinister purpose, and as such, therefore, regard all charges of extra-judicial killings as being politically motivated.

There is a distinction, however, between political capital being made out of a problem, and the problem itself. And in this instance it is not just the PNC/R, or those whom Mr Jagdeo regards as having megalomaniacal egos or an axe to grind who have identified a problem; so have sober members of civil society - most recently the Guyana Bar Association. On Friday we reported that organization as having announced its intention of compiling a register of extra-judicial killings, and of calling for independent inquiries into all alleged cases of such killings by the police.

It is unfortunate that President Jagdeo appears so unaware of normal police practice when he states that in cases where officers of the force have killed someone, the police are tried even before they have been given a chance to tell their side of the story. Under normal circumstances (Mr Brian King's shooting was an exception) the police issue a press release with some dispatch, and all responsible media houses carry the contents of that release whether or not they are in tandem with what independent eyewitnesses have had to say.

Perhaps Mr Jagdeo should ask his Minister of Home Affairs to forward to him all police statements in cases where questions have been raised about killings by members of the GPF, so he can peruse them. Were he to do that, he would discover not only that the police have invariably told their story soon after an event, but that those stories in many cases raise more questions than they answer. In other words, irrespective of whatever it is eyewitnesses or those on the scene have had to say, the releases are either woefully short on detail, contradict common sense or otherwise defy logic. And if he took them all together, he might be more aware of the disturbing trends which they suggest.

In any case, why is President Jagdeo so seemingly afraid to give contrary accounts a hearing? Since he is clearly very vague about police statements, he really should be more cautious about outright dismissal (by implication) of what so many witnesses have had to say concerning a significant number of these killings. Surely he is not going to argue that all the citizens who have spoken to reporters are politically motivated, or that they have all made up fanciful stories just in order to inflate the egos of media megalomaniacs? It is true that witnesses other than relatives of the slain men are afraid to come forward in cases involving the police. But doesn't the fact that they are afraid give the President cause for some unease?

Mr Jagdeo also made specific reference to the case of Mr Brian King. He said he was misled by a television report which gave the impression that Mr King's death had happened suddenly, when in fact he had been in the hospital for some time. It was only when he read the police report, he said, that he learnt that he had been shot in a situation of confrontation. Well, if the police report is the same as the one which was issued to the media on January 5, perhaps the President should go back and read it again. It really doesn't make as much sense to clear-thinking citizens as it appears to do to their head of state. And it should be said that the time when the shooting happened is not really relevant to the circumstances under which Mr King got shot in the first place.

No, Mr President, politics aside, there is a genuine problem, and until you recognize it, the professionalism of the force will continue to be undermined, and the public will become more and more mistrustful of those who are paid to protect them.