An important civic duty Editorial
Stabroek News
June 10, 2002

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Friday’s confrontation between the police and several armed men which resulted in the death of wanted man Compton Cambridge was one of the few instances since the February 23 jailbreak where law enforcement officers were able to gain the upper hand in the epic struggle against criminals.

Still, there are many questions left unanswered. Why wasn’t back up immediately summoned to encircle the area where the four men were holed up? How come three of the men escaped and there appeared to be no determined pursuit? How come the scene of the shooting was apparently left unprotected thereby allowing a newspaper to photograph Cambridge’s body? A post-mortem report would also be helpful in revealing the fatal wound suffered by Cambridge and how it was sustained. Without this type of information, the rumour mill has a field day and does a lot of damage by fuelling grossly unfounded theories. Perhaps the police public relations machinery will see the wisdom in addressing these issues.

However, it is not only the police who should be pondering the dilemmas they face. Communities that provide safe harbour for wanted men, the escapees and criminals in general should also engage in deep introspection about what they too are responsible for. Since Mash Day, the police force has come under increased scrutiny for its shortcomings in terms of operational deficiencies and human rights transgressions. If the equation was to be well balanced, the streets, blocks, neighbourhoods and communities where criminals are being kept safely also have a lot of answering to do.

As we have argued before in these columns, those criminals who successfully launched the most dangerous security threat to the nation over the last decade had, and have, many helpers who are just as accountable and culpable for the crimes being committed.

It is clear from the information gathered that Cambridge was a frequent visitor to Nabaclis. He was not turned in neither was he convinced to turn himself over to law enforcement authorities in a manner that would prevent the kind of shoot-out and bloodshed that greeted the community of Nabaclis on Thursday. Why?

It is not only the moral obliquity and the abandonment of civic responsibility that is of concern. It is also the strife and division that has been caused in communities by the willingness of one section to provide cover for criminals while the other section vehemently opposes it. When Cambridge was first sought in connection with the killing of police detective Harry Kooseram, residents of a community where he was openly seen became targets of attack and isolation.

Residents spoke of the tension that had been generated because of the split in the community. Police were unable to undertake the necessary operations to apprehend him because of the hostility of residents. And so, Cambridge continued to be free. In the meanwhile, if one were to take the police’s version as the truth, he was being sought in connection with as many as seven murders and a multitude of other crimes.

He surely should have been turned over by those who harboured him to be tried for the crimes he was accused of committing.

And what of the other criminals who have been terrorising the capital and other parts? There is enough evidence to suggest that villages along the East Coast are continuing to be sanctuaries for them. Numerous suspects have escaped in these areas not to mention the number of hijacked cars found there. This is why Operation Tourniquet - involving the Guyana Defence Force - has spread to these areas.

So while the Association of Concerned Citizens of Buxton which held a press conference on Friday to express its misgivings about Operation Tourniquet has a right to be concerned that Buxtonians were not consulted and about the fear that the presence of soldiers in their community has engendered, by the same token they must also be similarly discomfited at any support given to criminals. The concerned citizens must not only be upset by police transgressions and killings.

They must show equal intolerance for the excesses of residents of their community. After Cambridge was shot dead at Nabaclis why did Buxtonians erupt in violence and attack vehicles on the public road? Did the association of concerned citizens seek to restrain those who attacked and to prevent them from sullying the reputation of this historic village? Has the association attempted to help law enforcement authorities to apprehend and prosecute the guilty? When the just repaired embankment road was dug up again by residents in the area was there any attempt to dissuade those who had done it or to identify them for prosecution?

As an aside, at the ACG press conference, the Chairman of the Buxton/Foulis Neighbourhood Democratic Council Randolph Blair lamented the plight of Buxtonians - having to fetch water 161 years after its founding - and the unemployment situation there. It is a valid issue. Many communities across the country face similar crises. Further, Buxton has faced this very plight for years far greater than the more recent presence of PPP governments in office. Buxton should be alive to this.

Wherever criminals are being kept from law enforcement authorities, they should be urged to give themselves up in a manner that would pre-empt charges of extra-judicial acts. It is an important civic duty and adjunct to the institutions entrusted with maintaining law and order. Each resident must strive to live up to this obligation.