Year of the gun
Stabroek News
December 29, 2006

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In a year in which Guyana earned the dubious distinction in the Caribbean Community of having a Cabinet Minister assassinated, gun crimes emerged as the greatest threat to public safety. No crimes became as terrifying this year as armed robbery and murder and no weapon symbolised crime more than the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.

The Defence Force's loss of 33 of these weapons of choice in February, and the Police Force's seizure of a cache of illegal weapons, including an AK-47 rifle, Beretta sub-machine gun, grenades and ammunition in Ruimveldt in November, reinforced the connection between firearms and criminal violence.

On an average day in 2006, there have been three gun-related robberies and, in an average week, there have been three murders. Acting Commissioner of Police Mr Henry Greene confirmed that gun crimes had increased by 44 per cent by mid-August over the same period last year and Assistant Commissioner Mr Heeralall Makhanlall reported that 'executions' accounted for nearly one-third of all murders this year.

The bloodletting seems to have started in January when a gun-toting phantom gang riddled Ronald Waddell's body with bullets at his home in Subryanville. Supposedly a 'political' execution, this might have ignited a series of subsequent killings including the unprecedented 'political' assassination of a Minister of the Government, Satyadeow Sawh, three months later in April.

Several other alarming aspects of gun crimes became evident, the most disturbing being the phenomenon of the 'massacre,' the cruel and violent slaughter of several people at the same time. The atrocities in Agricola-Eccles in February; the Sawh family at La Bonne Intention in April; the Kaieteur News staff and others at Bagotstown-Eccles, all featuring the lethal use of firearms, were the most gruesome.

The police also have been doing their bit to boost the bloated body count with some killings of their own. Although few tears were shed over the hunting down of suspected bank robbers in the Black Bush Polder backlands in August and of wanted men - Troy Dick in Wortmanville; Anthony 'John Kirby' Heywood in Agricola; Anthony 'Kussum' Charles in Bachelor's Adventure - police killings have become much too frequent and the public has learnt much too little about the motives and modus operandi of the dead 'suspects'.

As if to emphasise the general ignorance about the character of the criminal underworld to which these hard-core brigands belonged, a ruthless, waifish, homicidal young brigade suddenly emerged to terrorize East Coast and East Bank Demerara villages. Youths, ranging in age between 13 and 21 years, have been implicated in the murders of Success Village taxi driver Seeraji Singh and Grove Village shop keeper Barbot Paul. Several of these juveniles have been charged with multiple murders.

Armed brigands also resorted to attacking targets in rural villages, in hinterland settlements, in the Essequibo islands and on the waterways. Exploiting the law enforcement agencies' lack of interest in living in the bush, lack of resources to sustain long-range operations, and lack of mobility, especially aircraft, all-terrain vehicles and river vessels, criminals have taken to using isolated roadways and rivers to extend their zones of operation.

Judging from the risible sentence recently imposed on a Ruimveldt woman found guilty of possession of the most lethal cache of weapons uncovered this year, and the official reluctance to enforce an effective anti-smuggling scheme to prevent illegal weapons from entering the country, it will be difficult to reduce gun crimes and make the country a safer place in the new year.