Lessons from the attack on Constable Kelvin George
Whenever a policeman comes under attack in the line of duty the authorities have a particular obligation to seek to apprehend and bring the perpetrators to justice quickly. The sense of urgency has everything to do with dispelling the notion that the criminal element possesses a monopoly on force and that they can impose their will, the institutions responsible for upholding law and order notwithstanding.
That is why the Guyana Police Force must now leave no stone unturned to seek to apprehend the criminals who, last Wednesday, attacked and injured Police Constable Kelvin George in the course of preventing him from effecting a lawful arrest. The incident took place at Monkey Mountain, one of the several interior regions where policing is limited to not much more than a symbolic presence. The criminals who attacked Constable George knew only too well that he would therefore have been at their mercy.
It was one of those insidious criminal challenges to law and order that reminds us of the leaden-footedness of the authorities in the matter of strengthening policing capacity in the hinterland, some regions of which are now among the most violent places in the country.
We must hope, of course, that Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee and the high command of the Force will apply the correct interpretation to the attack on Constable George by returning the issue of interior security to the front burner of the government’s agenda.
The parliamentary opposition too needs to continue to make a vigorous case in the National Assembly for enhanced interior security. It is well-placed to do so given the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, Brigadier (retd) David Granger has, for some time now, been a vocal advocate of police reform.
The attack against Constable George compels us to ask ourselves whether there are not huge swathes of our country that belong to us only in the context of geography, real ownership having been cancelled out by our inability to lay down the law in those regions. While policing the hinterland has long been limited by the nature of the terrain, the resource limitations of the Force and the failure by government to do much to suggest that the issue of interior security is being taken seriously, one might have thought that the surfeit of relatively recent interest in those remote regions occasioned by the growth of the mining sector might have resulted in a corresponding security response by the state. Not so. The significantly enhanced importance of the gold-bearing regions of the country has remained unmatched by any significant efforts to improve security policing.
It is this that accounts for the spate of violent criminal acts and the overarching culture of lawlessness that is currently in evidence at some interior locations. The simple fact is that hinterland crime has escalated way beyond the capacity of the police, a circumstance that often leaves the maintenance of law and order almost entirely reliant on citizens’ preparedness to regulate themselves. Of course, given the opportunity, some people are likely to seek to break the law.
By failing to provide a security response to the ‘gold rush’ that has ensued in recent years and the attendant shift of large numbers of people from coastal regions into the interior, the authorities have either ignored or overlooked the obvious potential for increased crime and violence that was likely to arise in the high-risk, high-stakes culture of gold-mining. Indeed, the resulting erosion of law and order derives not only from the marauding bandits targeting miners and mining camps, but from violence within the mining communities themselves spawned by social conflicts and confrontations over gold.
Two additional points are worthy of mention here. First, the bandits targeting interior mining operations have had a significant ‘jump’ on the police who are yet to provide anything remotely resembling an effective response. Secondly, inadequate policing has, inevitably, given rise to a culture of self-defence, an option which is known to embrace a rough justice that is invariably unmindful of the tenets of the law.
Up until now the political discourse on interior security has not moved much beyond pronouncements on issues of cost and the various logistical challenges associated with a much-improved quality of policing in those far-flung regions. In effect, what we have done is to ignore almost entirely the security-related issues that repose in our territorial integrity. We remain, in most instances, blissfully indifferent to the various ways in which our borders are being violated through – among other things – the movement of weapons that help fuel crime in both our hinterland and coastal regions. Here, the question that arises is whether discourses in the capital that have to do with social and economic development do not amount to exercises in self-delusion as long as we continue to demonstrate a patent inability to maintain even a semblance of law and order in those parts of the country which are most important to its development.