The face of crime has changed for the worse
My column - by Adam Harris
Kaieteur News
January 7, 2007

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The police crime statistics were quite revealing. They showed that gun crimes and other serious crimes had mounted far above previous levels. Coming in the wake of the terror-filled period after five notorious criminals broke out of the Camp Street jail on February 23, 2002, one would have expected to see a lower number of gun crimes.

People still recall those days when the streets were empty after dark, when night clubs were places for the bravest of Guyanese, when the police and army cancelled their traditional Old Year's Night parties, and when Buxton was the local equivalent of a no-pass zone.

In those days, people in just about every part of the city became familiar with the sound of gunshots. People went to bed and awoke the next morning to hear that some people had been shot and killed. Indeed, the police kept fishing bodies from some of the most unlikely places, not least among them the Botanical Gardens.

Business places became prime targets and it mattered not what time of the day it was. One bright Saturday morning, less than a half mile from the Brickdam Police Station, gunmen targeted a Regent Street cambio and made off with millions of dollars. In the process they killed one of the owners and seriously wounded another.

These gunmen then attacked a post office, numerous residences and even an armoured vehicle transporting currency between Berbice and the capital.

There were vendetta killings, assassinations and kidnappings. People later spoke of a death squad that went about picking up people, some of them wanted by the police, and executing them.

But for all this, the year just past recorded more murders and even more gun crimes than those days.

This could only have been possible because increasing numbers of young men are turning to a life of crime. This was a fear that many in the society expressed when the authorities complained that there was a marked decline in education standards and that young men were not completing their education, choosing instead to seek role models among the criminals and the minibus drivers and conductors.

Those who failed to secure jobs as minibus drivers and conductors walked the streets and pretty soon, they fell into the clutches of the criminal-minded. Some were said to have had to undergo a rite of passage that meant using a gun, sometimes to kill.

The killing of the Kaieteur News pressmen was just one case in point. The gunmen who entered the printery later said that they killed for the fun of it although there is evidence to suggest that there was only one trigger man with one gun.

For quite some time, Brazil has been one of the world's largest arms manufacturers. One expects that the country that produces an item would market that item within its own borders for little or nothing. Cars are cheaper to the Americans, the British, the Japanese, the Germans and the Russians than those same cars would be to Guyanese.

In the first instance, the country importing those cars must pay a duty or a tax. Then there has to be the cost of transportation or shipping. It is the same with a country that makes firearms. Guns of all types but assault could be bought depending on the laws in a particular state. However one looks at it, these guns are cheaper there than they are here. They are even cheaper in Brazil largely because that country's labour costs are lower than those in the United States. And it is here that our problems begin. The border between Guyana and Brazil is almost non-existent. People go and come as they please.

In the same manner our gun runners would go to Brazil, pick up guns and come back with the merchandise.

I do not know because no one has ever approached me with an offer to sell a gun but the word on the streets was that a gun could have been had rather cheaply. I suspect that these would be guns smuggled out of the factory and therefore marketed rather cheaply to the buyers.

There are those who would say that if one could not afford to buy a gun then one would be able to rent one for an even smaller fee. That being the case and with more and more young men leaving school minus the skills to lead a decent life, it is therefore no surprise that we have so many gun crimes. But to picture more gun crimes these days as opposed to those rough days not so long past really stretches the imagination.

The police stats say that break and enter and larceny is down by a dramatic margin because those who break and enter now do so with guns so the nature of the crime has changed.

It was heartening that there was a marked lull in gun crimes in the city. There were a few armed robberies outside the capital and equally, there were arrests almost as soon as the crimes were committed.

The police also reported an increase in murders. Sociologists would argue that as poverty deepens, people tend to become more and more irritable because they are becoming increasingly less comfortable.

Wives with hungry mouths to feed would nag their husbands who, because of frustration and their relatively low level of intelligence, would lash out. There were many of those last year.

The social organisations that look after the welfare of women and children say that many of these murders followed abuse. They came when one party, probably the woman, sought to leave, having had enough of the torture.

What is somewhat interesting is the often ready acceptance of the courts of pleas to the lesser count. This may be understandable when one considers that it is often difficult to procure a murder condition—the onus is on the court to prove premeditation—but most other courts would go down the line. But then again, those countries in which this may happen have better investigative capabilities so that the evidence presented to the court is often overwhelming.

And at this stage, I owe Justice B.S. Roy an apology. In my last column, I attributed the decision that criminal cases be tried in chronological order to him. That was incorrect. He had nothing to do with the decision.

The judge in question was Justice Jainarayan Singh. I therefore offer Justice Roy an unqualified apology for a genuine mistake, something not uncommon to reporters with relatively poor research capabilities.