Police should enjoy no special privileges
Kaieteur News
February 28, 2007

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The shooting death of a young barber over the weekend highlights the level to which we are prone to violence and the extent to which the law would clamp down on those who are in flagrant breach of the law.

No one has been charged as yet and from all appearances, such charges are long overdue. The self-confessed killer is in hospital for wounds to his hand and this too raises the question of whether he is not being given preferential treatment by virtue of his relationship with the Guyana Police Force.

We are not unfamiliar with situations in which people linked to the Guyana Police Force were treated differently from other people who would have committed similar crimes.

A policeman shot and killed an Albouystown resident which gave rise to the ‘Justice for Jermaine' Committee. He was charged with manslaughter and on a court appearance, the magistrate mistakenly upgraded the charge to murder. The lawyers for the policemen successfully appealed that decision.

But while that appeal was pending the force moved to keep the accused out of jail. Using the vehicles at the disposal of the police the members of the force moved him from the prisons to the hospital.

The matter was never called and the policeman is believed to have left the jurisdiction. To this day that trial is still to get underway.

Then there was the case of the Presidential Guard who shot and killed a vendor on D'Urban Street. Indeed the guard was arrested but he too never spent a day in the lock-ups. The police came to his aid and protection and right up to the time of his death the matter never came to the fore.

There have been numerous other cases, including the shooting death of Yohance Douglas on Sheriff Street one morning, in March 2003. Two policemen were indicted but while in custody at a minimum security facility they could be seen visiting stores in the downtown shopping areas.

A public hue and cry halted the visits and shopping sprees but did nothing to ensure that the prisoners felt the pressures that others who would have committed like crimes are made to feel.

The perception that the police treat their own favourably, be they criminal or otherwise, sends the wrong message to the wider society. People have used this perception to conclude that the police can do anything and avoid the law. And the police by their actions have done nothing to dispel the perception.

People appear in court and allege beatings by the police. We can understand why judges and magistrates can do nothing in such instances. The harsh reality is that the police are not on trial.

However, each complaint should warrant an internal investigation. If the investigation finds evidence of wrongdoing then the force should act on the findings.

Two years ago, the British Police jailed one of their own for a shooting death that occurred in Guyana. The man had gone to the defence of his wife and had used a shotgun on the suspected tormentor.

The local police did precious little, and in the end, the man returned to England where he did not commit the crime. Something went wrong. He started another relationship and his wife became angry. She simply reported the Guyana incident and sparked a trial that ended up with the man being given a lengthy jail term.

Had this been the case in Guyana, the argument would have been that the policeman had committed no crime here and was therefore free to walk the streets.

The Police Complaints Authority is on record as complaining about the reticence on the part of the police to provide information when asked. The courts have also complained about the failure of the police to turn up in court when required and sometimes, the failure to produce witnesses.

Indeed we have had cases of the police moving condignly against their own in cases of larceny, bribery and the like, but enough of this is not being done. Policemen are still seen as being outside the purview of the law and this must not be allowed to happen.

To serve people, one must be seen as being of the people, without any special privileges.

And so we sit and await the outcome of this most recent shooting that appears to be a case of using excessive force and enjoying special considerations in the aftermath.

We also await the investigation ruling on the possession of a weapon that should have been in the police armoury.