Last Thursday the United States renewed its Level 2 travel advisory on Guyana. It advised travelers to exercise increased caution. The US’s four travel advisories range from ‘exercising normal caution’ to ‘do not travel.’ The recent shooting to death of three men at Black Bush Polder, Berbice, and another three men in a home in Norton Street, Georgetown, that they had invaded, is a backdrop to the travel advisory, which is the same level of caution that Guyanese would normally exercise.
Most who live or work in Georgetown avoid certain areas and exercise increased caution even when not in those areas. Most do not wear jewellery or keep it safely hidden on their person. It is not safe for women to walk with handbags or for men to have easily accessible wallets which are easy targets for pickpockets, with the aid of knife or gun. Reports of harrowing incidents fill our daily news and these are only the tip of the iceberg of what happens every day in our streets and homes. Many overseas Guyanese, particularly from Berbice, do not visit Guyana on holiday because of the crime situation. All Guyanese know that visiting relatives are an invitation to bandits, as the Norton Street incident demonstrates.
Ryan Crawford, whose middle name you will have to guess, is an attorney-at-law in practice in Berbice, and the son of the late Marcel Crawford, one of the Ancient County’s distinguished lawyers. He was the victim of a stop on the East Coast public road by police on Thursday last, presumably while on his way up to Berbice. Mr. Crawford became incensed and let loose as tirade of expletives, objecting to the stop by the police. Punctuated by a repetitive flow of profanity, Mr. Crawford declared his name, but with a qualifying expletive for his surname. With the same descriptive dexterity, he demanded that the police should tell him why he was … stopped, while at the same time informing the policeman that he can only be …. stopped if he was …. suspected of having committed a …. crime. He challenged the police to inform the …. President and the …. Vice President and whoever the …. else he wanted to and then drove off.
The incident was recorded and found it way on social media and, as is to be expected, there were many comments, some supportive and some condemnatory. The supportive comments expressed in various ways disapproval of the police activity of stopping vehicles on the road for no apparent reason, then requesting driving licences. A police stop is often accompanied by the inevitable request for a “raise.” Despite the decades of criticism of this type of police activity, nothing has ever been done by the authorities to restrain it.
It has long been recognized that the judiciary and its decisions are not and should not be immune from criticisms. It’s quite a different matter to attribute motives to the judiciary that can be construed as improper such as failing to consider or to implement executive policy. Two contrasting approaches were displayed recently by Mr. Aubrey Heath-Retemeyer, Deputy Director of the State Agency for the Recovery of Assets (SARA) and Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister of Public Security.
Mr. Aubrey Heath-Retemeyer’s, in an interview by KN on June 22, accused the judiciary of resisting the government’s drive to reduce corruption because they are not willing to facilitate SOCU or SARA. He said that there is a “stark disconnection between the judiciary and the thirst of the nation for an end to corruption…I feel that sometimes the legal system here…doesn’t want to be in step with the honest desire of the law enforcement people (like SOCU) to ensure that they get the job done. I feel that if there was a greater sense of urgency and understanding on the part of the legal people and the system, they would be more willing to facilitate what SOCU or SARA would be doing.”
This article below was first published in June, 2014, in a different political era. The recent shooting by the Police of three men on the seawall demonstrates the continuing relevance of the issues discussed at that time. I wrote as follows:
Violence and corruption in the police force can no longer be classified as allegations. They are real and are now an integral part of the culture of the Police Force and policing in Guyana. The sooner the authorities accept that these are chronic and systemic problems in the Police Force, the quicker there will be a serious attempt at a solution. No such attempt has yet taken place, even though modest efforts at ‘reforms’ have been made. But these have been attempted only reluctantly, after much public pressure and as an attempt to soothe public opinion. When public rage overflows, such as after the shootings in Middle Street, the public is offered the creation of a SWAT team. But the danger now exists that the Police Force will become so enmeshed and so entrenched in violence and corruption, that systems to protect these will take on a life of their own within progressively higher reaches of the Police Force.
It is not known whether the post of Commissioner of Police, which has become vacant with the retirement of now former Commissioner, Seelall Persaud, will be advertised to facilitate applicants from Guyana and the Caribbean, or will be ‘selected.’ President Granger implemented that policy in relation to the posts of Chancellor and Chief Justice, for which he had argued forcefully as Leader of the Opposition. It was productive because one such applicant was nominated for the post of Chancellor. Consistency demands that the position of Commissioner of Police be similarly advertised so as to attract the best qualified from Guyana and the region.
When appointed, the new Commissioner will recognize that without the cooperation of the public who provide information and intelligence, the capacity of the Police to solve crime would be severely diminished. It appears that such cooperation was significantly enhanced during the tenure of Commissioner Seelall Persaud. This saw a heightened crime resolving effort by the Police which deteriorated as soon as the Police came under public attack at the recent inquiry and the negative consequences of that inquiry. It is hoped that under new leadership the Police will revive its effort at good community relations which is recognized the world over as vital to crime-solving.