Going beyond condemnation of crime Editorial
Stabroek News
July 29, 2002

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The PNC/R's condemnation of the Rose Hall siege last Monday in which two policemen and a teenager were brutally murdered is very important in the current crisis but the party must go further. At Congress Place's weekly press conference on Thursday, PNC/R General Secretary Robert Corbin said of the Rose Hall attack "in our view, this further escalation in the level of violent crime represents an even more unacceptable level of deterioration in our security and is evidence of the contempt (with) which these murderers and bandits hold our police force". The PNC/R went on to lay the blame for the tide of crime on the shoulders of President Jagdeo and called again for the resignation of the Home Affairs Minister.

There is no disputing that the President has to be held accountable for the mass of spine-tingling murders, robberies and beatings that have plagued society. Few will also dispute that the performance of Minister Gajraj in arresting the criminality and restoring some order has been dismal and if performance standards were applicable in the discharge of Cabinet duties he would have been asked to vacate his position a long time ago.

But this does not absolve the PNC/R of a larger responsibility. As the major opposition party, its customary role is to identify and expose the weaknesses of the government and pillory it in the hope of winning over public opinion and improving its electoral prospects. But in this state of national insecurity where the recent crime attacks have taken on a sinister and insidious outlook, the role of the opposition is not only to criticise and cajole the government to address the crisis. The role of the opposition is also to thrust its support behind the wheel of the state to defeat the criminal enterprise. As the voice of 42% of the people of this country, the PNC/R must willingly link arms with the state and the police force to combat the criminals as its supporters are also under attack by them. The marauders who laid siege to Rose Hall last Saturday are no respecters of law and order. Quite the opposite, they seem bent on creating absolute chaos and the breakdown of the state. That is clearly something that the PNC/R should find abhorrent and must in no way appear to equivocate on.

There is also another reason why the PNC/R has a special role. A major segment of the populace perceives it to be ambivalent on the crime wave. This perception has been honed on the anvil of the violence and crime which have accompanied many PNC/R-sponsored marches and political action. More recently, the July 3rd assault on the Office of the President where two protesters were killed was an example of an event fully supported by the PNC/R which spawned chaos, violence, beatings and arson. Other PNC/R protests have resulted in much the same in the past. On several occasions, media operatives were attacked by persons who sought refuge in the Congress Place compound and at the last elections there were credible reports that elections agents were taken into this very compound and beaten and interrogated. Clearly the PNC/R's political agitation has resulted in the intertangling of legitimate protest and violent crime. It therefore has a special obligation to assist in rooting out crime.

While condemnation of criminal action is an important step, the PNC/R - as does the PPP/C - has a broader platform on which to fight crime. It represents 42% of the votes in the country and in those communities where these votes are concentrated it is well placed to mount an effective grass roots campaign against crime as the PPP recently indicated it intended to mount. In its strongholds where criminal networks have penetrated and receive succour and outlawry prevails, the PNC/R has a moral and civic obligation to intervene. Buxton has unfortunately been one of those villages. The majority of Buxtonians are law-abiding citizens who are just as oppressed by the crime wave as any other group. However, there is mounting evidence that a small minority of Buxtonians refuse to yield to the rule of law and are actively aiding bandits and involved in crimes. Dozens of hijacked cars have been abandoned there, numerous assailants have fled into its streets, police have been shot at and stoned from within the village, many passers-by and travellers have been robbed and beaten by Buxtonians, there have been frequent sightings of wanted men in the community and there are also concerns that proceeds from criminal activities are filtering down to residents. None of this should be happening and the PNC/R through its party apparatus must aid in bringing this to a halt and ensuring that the rule of law thrives. The country recognises that the police shooting of Shaka Blair in Buxton set back relations between the community and the police. This standoff must, however, not lead to conditions where criminality thrives. There must be a way forward for the police and Buxtonians and the PNC/R can play a valuable intercessorial role in this. Its activists need to spread the word in these communities that criminal gangs are attacking the law and order basis of the state and no aid whatsoever must be provided to them.

What the PNC/R must not do at all is to ascribe ulterior motives to legitimate police action. That sends the opposite message and undermines authority. It says to the criminal elements that the PNC/R would not allow its strongholds to be policed or its supporters to be questioned.

In the face of recent sinister attacks and the troubling gathering of weapons by criminals, the PNC/R can go many notches higher than mere condemnation and this is an important civic responsibility.