Residents allege police terror
Shots fired, fires lit By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
January 22, 2002

Residents at Buxton, East Coast Demerara (ECD) were yesterday reeling from what they described as a night of disturbance, which saw shots being fired and fires lit.

According to reports, a group of Target Special Squad policemen descended on the village shortly after dark on Sunday, claiming that they were carrying out an operation to apprehend drug elements.

A release from the Guyana Police Force yesterday stated that several gun shots were fired in the vicinity of Buxton/Friendship Road about 2140 hours on Sunday, while ranks were extinguishing a fire prior to removing a blockage on the railway Embankment Road.

According to the release, the blockage consisting of branches and several logs of about 20 in length was eventually removed. Another fire lit at Friendship Brush Dam at about 2310 hrs, the police said, was also extinguished.

The release did not mention any drug operation. And when contacted on allegations against the squad the force stuck to what was contained in the release and offered no further comment.

Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte, who visited the village on the Sunday evening, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Samuel Hinds who is performing the duties of president while President Bharrat Jagdeo is away on official duty.

According to Hoyte's letter to Hinds, the behaviour of officers of Target Special Squad, was causing unnecessary and dangerous tensions to surface again in the ECD community. He alleged that the police had revived "the practice of driving through the village at high speed, harassing and threatening villagers and arresting young men without justification." He said that practice which led to problems in that village and associated villages last year prompting him to write to President Jagdeo drawing his attention to the matter on May 3, 2001.

Hoyte said that following complaints about rising tensions, he visited the village and was speaking with a group of persons on the Railway Embankment Road, when a vehicle with some of the 'Black Clothes' officers drove up and stopped.

A person believed to be in charge, exited the vehicle, he said, and approached the crowd, pistol drawn, only to be confronted with him. Hoyte said he enquired whether there was need for such show of force since the group was not behaving disorderly or blocking the roadway. The policeman, Hoyte said, apologized, withdrew and retreated to his vehicle, which immediately drove off.

Hoyte said he was satisfied that had he not been present there could have been an ugly confrontation between the officers and residents.

Hoyte said he had written the letter in the hope that the law enforcement authorities could be persuaded to display greater sensitivity and professionalism generally in dealing with members of the public and specifically villagers of Buxton. The opposition leader attached a copy of his letter to President Jagdeo of May 3, 2001 in which he had called for an early commission of enquiry into the leadership, organisation and effectiveness of the force.

Residents said yesterday that they had to evacuate their beds for the floor as gunshots rang out from places they could not determine.

One elderly female resident stated that shortly after hearing the shots, someone shone a light into her home, resulting in her seeking refuge on the floor.

Other persons claimed that a christening party and second Sunday gathering in the village was stormed by police ranks without warning. Persons including women and several young children, they said, ran in all directions for cover. They said that the policemen ran through several yards searching latrines and generally causing terror among residents.

Political activist, and village elder, Eusi Kwayana, has called for an investigation and a subsequent public statement on the incidents, which he said commenced on Friday evening.

In a statement headed 'GAP-WPA Concerns', Kwayana stated that reports were widespread that on Friday last police units broke up a school sports event at the Lusignan Community Centre ground discharging tear smoke in the processes resulting in a panic among spectators.

He said that he heard at least 15 rounds discharged in Buxton between Company Road and Middle Walk on Sunday night. He said he made enquiries and was told that police had run through lots, opened toilets, chased women, beat men, ordered people into their vehicles and carried out other acts. He alluded to reports that parents were afraid to send their children to school.

Chairman of the Buxton/Foulis Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC), Randolph Blair, was critical of the police action, which he described as totally unprofessional.

According to Blair, the police sped into the village and without much warning while in the vicinity of the Company and Embankment roads began firing shots forcing the hurried dispersing of residents in all directions. He claimed that from his vantagepoint, no resident returned fire or exchanged fire with the police.

It was his view that if the police were conducting a campaign, it would have been more appropriate if they had done it in a more civil and professional manner.

Blair said he witnessed the police "roughing up" a young motorcyclist who had been riding without a helmet.

A while later, he said, there was an incident involving an in-law, who sold food in the evenings at a stand next to the Embankment road. Blair claimed that the police dumped the man's pot with food and his table in a nearby drain and broke his utensils. Chairman of the Community Development Committee, Yvette Herod, backed up his claims.

Herod also claimed that policemen visited a school in the area yesterday, ostensibly to check on attendance. The community leader objected to the presence of police in the school, saying it intimidated the children.

Even as this newspaper was speaking to the village leaders at the NDC office next to the Embankment Road a Target Special Squad patrol passed. However, many residents remained on edge fearing the outbreak of further clashes with the police.

Some stall owners along Company Road told reporters that they had been ordered to complete their selling by 6:00 pm yesterday.

Many expressed concern about the possibility of the imposition of a curfew in the neighbourhood.

Sources told this newspaper that Sunday's actions stemmed from foiled attempts by police at the athletics meet on Friday at Lusignan to arrest a Buxton resident, who they alleged was smoking marijuana.