Playing by the rules
July 2, 2004
PEOPLE with legitimate grievances have the right to protest to seek redress for their grouses when other avenues do not seem to work.
In democratic societies, there can be no quarrel with those who move to draw attention to their cause by mounting protests as a last resort, once they abide by the ground rules.
In Guyana and other countries in the region, police permission is required for public marches and this is usually granted once the police are satisfied there is no threat to public safety and security.
There has, however, for some time now been an unacceptable deviation from the ground rules during street marches/protests organised in Georgetown streets by Opposition parties.
These `protests’ have repeatedly degenerated into what can only be called terror campaigns against store owners in the main shopping district of Georgetown, especially Regent Street.
The tactics adopted by the `street protesters’ in previous sorties around Georgetown were repeated last Friday when pockets from those involved in a march approved by the police terrorised store owners.
With growing public outrage against this deplorable behaviour, some of those aligned with this and previous street demonstrations in the city are now trying to distance themselves from the ugliness of last Friday.
In the wake of looting and damage to their business places from `street protesters’ in previous marches, store owners have put up protective steel and other barriers on their buildings.
Most live so much in fear of the `protesters’ that in almost knee-jerk reactions, they throw up the protective barriers at the first word that the bands are once again on the move.
The fear is so pervasive that small roving bands of mainly women succeeded in ordering business places along Regent Street to shut down last Friday.
While police patrols kept watch, they went along Regent Street bullying many store owners into shutting up shop for the day with chants of “If they open, shut them down!”
Some of them marched into a school, spreading panic among students and teachers and the fear mounted as news spread that they were on the move.
This is a sorry state of affairs since those generally affected by these `protest’ sorties in Georgetown cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to be remotely connected to the root cause of the demonstrations.
People going about their lawful business and trying to make a living cannot be held hostage by bands with their own agendas who take to the streets whenever it pleases them.
Mr. Eddie Boyer, Chairman of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, reacting to the events of last Friday, said it was deplorable that a group of citizens can march down the road and force the closure of so many businesses.
He said that whenever such events occur, in addition to endangering people’s lives, there is a host of associated problems for businesses, one example being the impact it has on insurance.
Mr. Boyer felt there should be more preventative measures in place to stop further such incidents from occurring and called for more protection for businesses under the law.
Business and other groups have to begin to speak out forcefully against transgressions of the kind seen last Friday and demand a tougher approach by the authorities against deviations from the accepted ground rules for marches and other street protests.