Disturbing trends Editorial

Stabroek News
August 11, 2003

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While it definitely appears as if the rampant crime that brought the country to its knees over the last 18 months is on the wane, serious challenges still remain before law-abiding citizens can breathe easier.

The most dangerous of these is the so-called phantom killings or executions conducted by persons unknown and which executions the police say they havenít a clue about and consequently are unable to charge anyone or provide answers to grieving families and the apprehensive public.

How is the law-abiding citizen to rationalise the mysterious slaying of four men in less than a week? It started with the killings of the Baker brothers at Vergenoegen on the East Bank of Essequibo. The most that is publicly known about these murders is that the brothers were picked out by their executioners, followed and at an opportune moment clinically gunned down. Their attacker/s fled and several weeks later the police are still at sea over what happened.

Several days later, two friends, Clive Trim and Edward Bruce, on motorcycles were trailed by men in a car who waited until the riders were in the vicinity of a desolate spot at Grahamís Hall. The car cut them off on the road and a gunman cut them down mercilessly. Again the perpetrators of these murders fled - into the early evening - and the police have no answers.

This, of course, is not a new phenomenon. At the height of the crime wave bullet-riddled bodies kept turning up ever so often and without explanation. This trend was masked by the larger crime menace which all agree represented the confluence of several tributaries of different types of crime; drug related, vendettas, politically motivated and sheer greed.

While the police may breathe easier because the large-scale bandit-driven attacks on householders, commercial entities and the police force have subsided, the phantom assassinations cannot be ignored.

The law enforcement authorities in the past have had the tendency to categorise these killings as the product of gang warfare and soured deals as if this in itself would reduce the gravity of the crime - murder - or diminish the importance of this conundrum in the eyes of the public. As a result, the dozens of mysterious murders - many of people who at some point or the other were on the wrong side of the law - have gone unsolved and unexplained by the police. The force hardly seems perturbed about this.

That disposition has to change and the police have to seriously address these killings and apply the collective grey matter of the force to solving them. Failure to do so puts the entire society at further risk.

These killings mean that well-armed groups have no fear of the police force, are successfully eluding the reach of the police force, are calculatingly selecting targets and executing them and are committing these acts in the pursuance of some major criminal enterprise. There would be nothing to stop these groups from expanding their operations, targeting persons for the slightest of grievances and threatening the very foundation of the state through the expansion of their criminal enterprise. As repugnant, horrifying and brutal as the banditry was in the aftermath of February 23, 2002, the phantom killings represent a similar menace and must be addressed with the same fervency and ferocity by the government and the joint services.

Moreover, there is a significant section of the populace that feels that a blind eye is being turned to these killings and it feels aggrieved and outraged at this. It is this kind of alienation and dispossession which feeds many anti-social causes and threats to law and order. The government and the police should take cognisance of this.

Another continuing unhealthy trend is the trigger happy, go-ahead make-my-day attitude of some of the countryís law enforcement arms. In two recent cases the City Constabulary has come under close scrutiny for the conduct of its constables. In one case, a passer-by, Ronald Todd was nearly fatally shot after a wild discharge of gunfire. The shots were fired during a commotion on Hadfield Street while the constables were clearing vendorsí stalls. In another incident just last week, a man said to be a chain snatcher was fatally shot by a constable. Preliminary reports indicate that the deadly force used was uncalled for as was the case with several other chain-snatching events last year in the vicinity of the Stabroek Market. Chain-snatching and muggings are truly vicious, traumatising acts but the answer to them is effective policing not deadly force.

Unnecessary force was also used on a man who recently attempted to flee to freedom outside of the Georgetown Prison. Police pursued and from all reports the man was shot dead even though he surrendered and pleaded with them not to shoot. These are cases where at the bare minimum, the police force and the city constabulary must immediately review with their forces the circumstances under which firearms are discharged. It should be drummed into these forces that there are limited circumstances in which guns should be drawn and deadly force applied.

Hopefully, the applicable cases will be referred to the Police Complaints Authority and the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC). The DFC is intended to be the vehicle to test years of complaints about heavy-handed tactics by the police force and it should be provided with detailed information at the Supreme Court Library by those who have had long-standing cases.

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