The Acting Police Commissioner’s promises
Acting Police Commissioner Leroy Brumell’s engagements on Thursday with family members of the slain teenager Shaquille Grant and with residents of Agricola who had protested the young man’s killing by police might be interpreted as an attempt by the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to strike a more conciliatory posture than it usually does in response to public protests over police killings. In similar previous circumstances the GPF has simply circled the wagons and insisted that its ranks acted properly professionally, never mind what, frequently, appears to have been evidence to the contrary.
Mr Brumell has promised an “intense” and presumably transparent enquiry into the Grant killing. As far as punishing the guilty parties is concerned he has said that the Force will simply let the chips fall where they may.
It may well be that the Agricola shooting having come so quickly on the heels of police killings at Linden, Mr Brumell may have decided that the Force needs some measure of respite from public criticism and that a conciliatory approach in this instance may be the best way of securing that respite. Even if that were true, The acting Commissioner is probably still deserving of some measure of credit for engaging Shaquille Grant’s relatives anyway, since what would appear to be a decidedly placatory approach on his part has certainly has not been the way of his predecessors.
There may also be a case for suggesting that Mr Brumell has decided to use the Agricola killing to send a pointed message to the powers that be that under his watch the Force is seeking both to correct its public image and to assert its operational independence from what, over the years, have been allegations of damaging political control. Those allegations have done much to injure the GPF’s professional image, saddling it with a dark and dubious image underpinned by charges that it serves as a recruiting ground for death squads, that it practises torture and that numbered among it ranks are thugs masquerading as policemen who answer to powers outside the Force and whose real job is to serve as enforcers for the politically well-connected and otherwise influential.
If the acting Commissioner wants to see a Force that conforms more closely to its motto of Service and Protection, one can be sympathetic, though the question arises as to whether the cleaning of the Augean Stables which the Force has become is not beyond a man who has only been acting in the position for a few months.
Be that as it may, last Thursday’s undertakings by Mr Brumell are so far removed from the less savory protocols which the police have previously applied in similar circumstances, that were he to be able to deliver on those it would be a landmark accomplishment. Still, it is a significant undertaking. Assuming, for example, that an “intense” and transparent enquiry into the Grant shooting depends (as it must) on verifiable, eyewitness evidence, that enquiry will be seriously challenged to manage the gathering of that evidence, given the widespread fear that to give evidence against the police is to risk reprisals.
The GPF, unfortunately, has become too steeped in its delinquent ways, too seemingly uncaring of its own image and too contemptuous of the protests of the individuals and communities that have been affected by its heavy-handedness for this editorial to suggest unequivocally that what the acting Commissioner had to say on Thursday can be interpreted as a turning of the proverbial corner. Ours is more of a fervent hope that Mr Brumell can be taken at his word. We expect that he understands both the Force and the society well enough to recognize that the depth of public bitterness and suspicion that has been created in communities like Buxton and Agricola will not simply vanish in the face of a single gesture on his part, however well-intentioned that gesture may be.
On the other hand one must hope that the acting Commissioner is sufficiently seized of the importance of restoring the Force’s pride and professionalism, erasing the stain associated with the illegalities and atrocities of which it stands accused and rebuilding relations with communities across the country to have his pronouncements on Thursday serve as a watershed.
As an aside it has to be said that we found the Commissioner’s reference on Thursday to rogue cops to be a repetitive and irrelevant cliché, rendered threadbare by the protracted lack of any real effort to cleanse the Force of such elements. Bad policemen have persisted in their corrupting influence on the Force for no other reason than the absence of will (perhaps incentive might be a better word) to bring them down.
One has to concede, of course, that if it is Mr Brumell’s intention to seek to salvage the image of the Force, he may well be walking a tightrope. Even the extent to which he can deliver fully on undertakings which he has given to the relatives of the dead youth and the community of Agricola is unclear at this stage. Quite simply, what he has promised is a radical departure from the old ways of the GPF. On the other hand one expects that Mr Brumell is aware that efforts to restore the public credibility of the Force will depend heavily on whether or not he can deliver on the promises made to Shaquille Grant’s family and to the people of Agricola.