Day of Atonement
Stabroek News
December 8, 2002

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The nation is revolted by the shooting to death on Tuesday of Constable Quincy James, who at eighteen years of age had barely begun to live yet. An ordinary traffic policeman, doing his duty at a road junction, he was pumped full of some 14 bullets for no other reason than sheer sadism. He had no weapon which he could have used against the attackers; he had no walkie-talkie or cell phone to alert headquarters; he was no more a threat to his murderers on that day than the unarmed pedestrians and vendors who suddenly discovered themselves in the middle of a rifle range. His youthful features were expressionless as he stared out of the police photo on our front page last Wednesday; he could have been the son, brother, nephew, cousin or friend of any one of us. Any one, that is, except his killers and those who harbour them.

The contrast between this act of barbarity and the seasonal sentiments blaring from the sound systems on the morning of the murder just couldn't be more painful. If nothing else, the manner of Constable James's death is symbolic of the depths to which we as a nation have sunk. And it isn't as if we have much reason for hope that things will improve. In our hearts most of us probably believe that the bandits haven't finished with us yet, and that peace and goodwill will not be ours this Christmas.

Yet in the middle of this criminal onslaught on our collective sanity, the politicians continue with their own - quite irrelevant - exchange of abuse. In what can only be seen as an act of desperation aimed at getting both sides to pay some attention to the people's views, all the major religious bodies are proposing to link hands tomorrow between Congress Place and Freedom House.

Two weeks ago in the Weekend Mirror Mrs Jagan argued that commentators had to end the "plague on both [your] houses" theme, and that "pressure and public opinion" should focus on the "need to push the PNC into its responsibilities." The people are way ahead of Mrs Jagan. While all reasonable members of the public agree with the former President that the PNC has not been acting responsibly in the last five years, and pressure in relation to this should be brought to bear, they also know that the issue goes beyond that, and unless the underlying problem of our political situation can be addressed, we will never be able to advance as a nation.

Unfortunately, the PPP has never acknowledged the existence of the underlying problem, and as such, therefore, it has so far been incapable of formulating even a private party position on the subject as a prelude to eventual discussions with the opposition. The term 'compromise' as far as this area is concerned, therefore, is not in its lexicon. What the people are telling the party is that it should be.

Furthermore, the governing party has steadfastly refused to acknowledge its role in the evolution of the crime situation to its current level, and on that score too the people are way ahead of the PPP/C. Blaming the PNCR is no substitute for action; if there is evidence against any member of the main opposition, then charge them; if there isn't, then Government spokesmen should not be making public allegations. Be that as it may, we have reached the point we have, partly as a consequence of the administration defaulting on its responsibilities; it has simply allowed events to overtake it.

And as for the PNCR, its sins are only too well known. At this point it has a choice; either it wholeheartedly goes the route outlined at its last Congress, or it continues on the road of undermining the Government by either direct or indirect means. (If it chooses the latter route, then we don't have a viable state, which one might have thought even the PNCR would have recognized is not in its long-term interest either.)

In addition, it simply can't go the 'Congress statement' route and continue to undermine at the same time, or switch from one to the other as the circumstances suit it. For instance, it can't continue to talk out of the two sides of its mouth, giving ambivalent messages to its most radicalised supporters, while adopting another position for larger public consumption. The people are simply not fooled - including the silent, rational majority of those electors who voted for the party at the last election.

Is it possible that it really hasn't noticed that the lives of its Georgetown constituency are on the line too in the current situation, and for that reason, if for no other (and there are plenty of other good ethical reasons) a reassessment of its approaches to the Buxton situation is necessary?

For those who will join hands tomorrow, they will have various views on what the eventual solution to our problems should be. Some will be PPP/C voters, and some PNCR voters, and some, no doubt, will be voters sympathetic to the minor parties. But they will all agree on one thing, and that is, (to use the words of the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO)), that our "political leaders [should] work together in the spirit of compromise and magnanimity to lead the country out of the present political, social and economic quagmire."

The IRO has named the day the 'Day of Atonement.' Will the politicians just stop the recriminations, and make a serious effort to get their minds attuned to what the public is saying to them. They may not understand the message, but if they believe themselves to be the true representatives of the people, they must nevertheless listen to it. And then having listened, they must go against what appears to be their natures, and act upon it. At the present time that means allowing the spirit of compromise and magnanimity to inform their discussions in the Social Partners forum.

And for all those who can make a little time in their lives tomorrow, go out and join the religious bodies and add your silent plea to that of your compatriots, no matter what your race, your religion or your political persuasion. Go there as a gesture to your future; go there as a gesture to the future of your children; go there as a gesture to the future of Guyana; and go there in memory of Constable Quincy James and all those like him, who because of violence and hate were denied the future that was rightfully theirs.

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