Fraser's death and crime
Stabroek News
April 8, 2002

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Tuesday's shooting death of Superintendent Leon Fraser as he investigated the reported sighting of the March 23 prison escapees crystallises the host of dangers facing Guyanese society and law and order.

The killing of any police officer is one of the most dire and pernicious attacks that could be launched against a rule-based society. His death exemplified the real jeopardy that police officers face tracking down notorious criminals.

Depending on who one speaks to, Fraser was either a doughty crime-fighter who could do no wrong or a trigger happy policemen who flagrantly violated the law by dispensing death to those he believed to be guilty. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between and it must be pointed out that Fraser was operating in the framework of a policing system which had the authority and obligation to discipline him for transgressions of his oath to uphold the rule of law. In the end, he gave his life in the fight against crime.

His death and that of Shaka Blair at the hands of the police in Buxton on Saturday have again ignited the burning controversy of extra-judicial killings. When Fraser died there was a sense of dread that the police would respond in kind and the circumstances of Blair's killing have added further weight to those fears. It can become a never-ending cycle of deathly violence if not reined in. The government and the police force cannot be oblivious to the wealth of evidence that extra-judicial killings are occurring with impunity. They cannot also be oblivious to the fact that these killings have severely weathered the bedrock on which our law enforcement and judicial system is founded.

For more than a decade, the government and the police force have a turned a blind eye to these killings because it was the seemingly easier way to handle the severe crime problem. The police had over time lost its ability to successfully gather unimpeachable forensic evidence and win prosecutions. Moreover, once cases were in court, the creeping pace of the dispensation of justice was another problem and many criminals who would not stand a chance in other jurisdictions got off scot-free and returned to the streets to continue their vicious and violent rampages. It is the only logical explanation why the government and the police force continuously refuse to admit that Guyana has a major problem where it comes to extra-judicial killings. It is a gross contradiction for the government and the police to speak blithely about upholding the law while these killings go on with impunity. It is only a matter of time before these killings begin to seriously affect Guyana's human rights and governance image.

We have argued repeatedly that the government must fund a determined effort to restore investigative professionalism to the force. It must be well-equipped to do its job. Armaments of the calibre of the criminals are crucial but equally important is the task of linking criminals with crimes through exhaustive gathering of evidence and successfully prosecuting cases. This should be a top priority of the government.

In the interim, the government and the police have a special responsibility to ensure that the tally of extra-judicial killings does not rise. Already there are many people who say that Blair was shot wantonly by the police instead of being incarcerated, questioned and charged if indeed his prints were on vehicles hijacked and he was one of the robbers. Nothing the police have said so far will convince the average reader that Blair was shot dead as he confronted the police. The Minister of Home Affairs and the Police hierarchy must recognise this. The onus is now on them to convince a skeptical public that this death wasn't an execution. It should also be a mission for the new Head of the Police Complaints Authority who has a major task ahead of him to make the body a credible one.

The other side of the coin is this. The police are facing an extraordinarily vicious gang of criminals who ruthlessly shot dead a prison guard, seriously injured another and now may have been involved in the killing of a policeman. These desperadoes will apparently stop at nothing. The police require the understanding and cooperation of all members of society in ending the rampage of these criminals.

Further, there is no doubt at all that those who escaped from the Georgetown Prison on February 23 have been and are being aided by a network of persons. How else does one explain the clockwork precision of the escape of the prisoners from Camp Street, the veritable arsenal of weapons they have flaunted and the fact that they are well-supplied and informed? Is it possible that they are willingly being harboured in certain communities and safe houses and allowed ingress and egress? There have been signs of this in places that vehicles have been abandoned and other unusual movements. Each community must make it its responsibility to ensure that succour is not being given to these brigands.

The moment of truth arrived a long time ago. Citizens have been under siege from bandits for years now with too brief interludes of relative calm. The challenge for the government and police is to confront this deadly menace but without undermining law and order and eroding fundamental human rights.