Protect our policemen
Stabroek News
January 6, 2003

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Over the last few weeks, the heinous assault by criminals on the law enforcement agencies has been intensified with a vengeance.

The renewed attacks followed a lull which came after the deaths of two escapees and others in the police operation of September 28 which also saw the input of unknown gunmen.

Things took a turn for the worse on December 4 when gunmen raided a Regent Street cambio and pumped 14 bullets into the body of 18-year-old traffic constable, Quincy James who was directing traffic at the time. Fourteen bullets. On December 23, constable Colin Robertson was ambushed and riddled with bullets. On January 1, constable Mark Latour was murdered in the Arapaima Restaurant on Main Street and hours later Constable Rayon Roberts was shot dead a short distance from his Bent Street home. On Saturday night, the killings continued. CANU officer Harold Duncan was shot dead in his home village of Agricola. Since April last year, 14 policemen, two CANU officers and one prison officer have been killed by gunmen.

It is quite clear that the shadowy network which issued pamphlets calling for the murder of policemen is continuing its work with impunity. There is no other explanation. The claims that are often floated in some sections of the community that these policemen have died as a result of private feuds or soured deals hold no water at all. A criminal organisation is recruiting cop killers and in one month five law enforcers have been gunned down and attempts made on the lives of others. The ultimate objective seems to be a collapse of the system of law and order and to create anarchy.

We need to protect our policemen. This is primarily the responsibility of the government and an additional $20M has now been voted to help protect policemen. However, each citizen has a corresponding civic obligation to help to smash this criminal enterprise. So far it has been untouchable and it has seemingly garnered support and resources from various sources.

The police force has over the years evoked the wrath of large sections of the populace by its crude, heavy-handed methods and charges of extra-judicial killings. The police force must learn from these transgressions and the government must put in place the institutional mechanisms that will assure the ordinary citizen, who feels aggrieved at the action of the police force, that he or she has a functioning and potent avenue of recourse. A fortified Police Complaints Authority is a step in this direction and we urge that efforts be made to accomplish this soon.

No matter its failings, the police force in any ordered society operates as the bulwark against the tide of crime, mayhem, murder and corruption. That it might also be tainted by some of these very things it should be fighting is sad but is no excuse for gunning down policemen.

The recent upsurge in the killings of policemen should prod the social partners even harder to get all of the political parties to sign on to the crime communiqué. Enough time has been wasted already.

Each day Buxton becomes more dangerous to its own residents and law abiding citizens. Guyanese, and in particular, Indian Guyanese visit that village and the adjoining village of Friendship at their own peril. In recent weeks, a Mon Repos carpenter was kidnapped in the village and his fate is unknown. A schoolboy, terrified out of his wits, barely managed to elude his abductors. A cattle farmer valiantly attempted to defend his herd but a gang of gunmen/would-be rustlers from Buxton, some armed with guns, overpowered him and shot him thrice. Annandale grocer, Basil Singh died on December 29 after gunmen from Buxton shot him several times. As is always the case, the gunmen melted effortlessly into the village and though the army arrived on the scene in good time, it was unable to make any arrests.

The transformation of Buxton into a safe haven for every criminal under the sun since the February 23 prison break has been well documented. Its use as a launching pad for attacks on traffic on the public road, for raids into neighbouring villages and for criminal excursions into the capital city are also well known and documented. No mini-bus passing on the road, private car or delivery truck can feel safe in the area and the drivers of these vehicles know that only too well.

And now this criminal scourge is beginning to turn on its host as was inevitable. A few weeks ago, a Friendship lad visited Buxton for a trim before heading to his school party. He didn’t make it out alive. A wanted man, Syionell Duke, pulled a gun on him and shot him dead. What followed next is as frightening as it is dangerous to the foundations of an ordered society. Duke was pursued by residents of Buxton/Friendship, taken to the backdam, beaten severely and set afire. He died and his mutilated body was left under coconut branches and pieces of wood for the authorities to find.

A wanted bulletin had been put out by the police for Duke in November.

He had been wanted for the attempted murder of a woman in Agricola and other crimes. However, he eluded police and fled to the safety of Buxton because like everyone else, he knew he was safe there and out of the reach of the arms of the law. So he stayed there and continued his habits and vigilante justice was meted out to him in the worst possible way. Had someone in Buxton done the right thing and alerted the police or army to his presence the tragedy might have been avoided. Like the eviction of the Chester family from Friendship, Buxton turned a blind eye to Duke with fatal consequences.

No matter how alienated we may feel from Buxton we all have a duty to reach out to the community and to try to get it to understand the danger it has embedded itself in and to cajole it towards ridding itself of this scourge. Some groups will and can have greater influence than others. The opposition PNCR is one such group considering that Buxton/Friendship voted solidly for it at the 2001 polls.

The police and the army are also influential groups from a law enforcement standpoint. The police force, however, has to do much more to improve its image in the village and to win back its confidence. This is the only way it will be able to garner the intelligence it needs to break the criminal stranglehold. The role of the army in Buxton continues to be an enigma. It is there but seemingly not there. Even for the purpose of detaining suspects, not engaging them, its performance has been patchy. Criminals continue to rule the roost and exit and enter the village without hindrance. What will the army do about this?

The government also has clout in this matter. Though it is understandably leery of engaging Buxton in the current situation, it has to. Call its leaders and prominent citizens to a meeting outside of the village. Listen carefully to their needs, fears and expectations. Perhaps a way could be found to loosen the tentacles the criminals have wrapped around the village and also bring a measure of trust between the two sides.

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