By Johann Earle
Attorney James Bond and retired Brigadier Edward Collins yesterday said that they were only marching peacefully when they were shot in the back by police with rubber bullets.
Stabroek News caught up with a bruised and battered Bond and former Guyana Defence Force Chief of Staff Collins, who both had visible marks and bloodied clothing from their encounter with ranks of the Guyana Police Force in Georgetown yesterday. Police said ranks fired on the procession that Bond and Collins were a part of after orders to disperse were ignored.
“The Police came and the procession was going west along Brickdam. I was part of the procession. We turned south into [Winter Place] and then west into Hadfield Street and there is where the police confronted us. And in short notice they commenced firing,” Collins said.
Asked about the extent of his injuries, he said that because the police used rubber bullets, the injuries were topical in nature. He said that he was shot several times. “Dr. Dalgleish Joseph treated us and gave us medication,” he said.
He said that after the shooting, he and others left the scene and were moving back to Congress Place “and on my way there … we were arrested on Eastern Highway.”
Collins said that ranks pulled up and forced him and some others into a vehicle. “That caused some commotion and some problems,” he said. He said that the lawyers later intervened and they were released on their own recognizance.
Bond, who said he got hit with 33 pellets around his back, neck, hands and other areas, noted that he had a meeting with Divisional Commander George Vyphuis prior to the march. “We had written to him since Sunday and someone from his office called and said that we hadn’t permission, because we had held a church service and we were planning a seven-day march. When he called me to his office, he told me what the procedures were and gave me advice. It was a very cordial meeting,” he said.
Bond was told that the persons at the Square of the Revolution must disperse. “But the people can’t just disappear into thin air or transport [suddenly] to Congress Place. So we took the decision that we will just walk… we wanted to keep the crowd controlled,” he said, noting that the walk would have taken a particular route and head to Congress Place.
“We held hands and walked and after we just shouted to the people to raise their hands and walk to let the police know that it was a peaceful protest and this is not meant in any way to be violent. I was running up and down the road keeping people in order and keeping the lines in check. When we got there, they had a line [of policemen] across the road blocking us,” he said.
“Some people [in the protest] were trying to pass the policemen,” he said, adding that he and some others joined hands to help to keep the other protesters away from the police. “Then all of a sudden I heard ‘step back!’. There was no warning given or anything of the sort. They had no loud hailers; they just had guns,” Bond said.
He said that at this point the crowd stepped back some 15 to 20 feet. “I took my glasses off because I did not want [the shards] to hit me in my face. Then I heard the volley. Eddie [Edward Collins] got hit; I got hit in my rib cage area. Women were still behind us so both of us turned our back [to the police] to make ourselves larger to shield the women that were behind us. Then I heard one volley and then another volley. By then, everybody began to scatter. We started picking up the women that were fallen,” he said.
“These officers…I don’t know if they are sane. I mean, we could understand if they are under threat that they would do this, but not to peaceful people,” he said, while blaming the situation on the failure of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to give an account of the statements of poll from the just conclude general elections.
“I hear people talking about illegal marches on the air. It is absolute rubbish to consider [what we had] illegal marches. Even if we were illegal, we had a right to walk. We have that right to walk two by two, arm in arm. People must realize that they are not going to encounter cowards in this movement. We are prepared … to walk blood, sweat and tears to ensure GECOM gets the message that we will not allow you to shirk from their responsibilities,” Bond said.
Commenting on his release, he said, “the oppressor has realized that we did nothing wrong, we did nothing to warrant this level of action. Whoever gave the order to shoot should be hauled before a judge and jury and charged … This is tantamount to barbarism; you don’t just shoot people like that,” Bond said.
APNU prime ministerial candidate, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine called it an outrageous and barbaric assault on young people and was adamant that the marchers had Police permission to march.
Roopnaraine said that Police seized vehicles parked in the vicinity of the Square of the Revolution and also carted off drinks carts. He called it an all-round assault on Guyana. “They have been stopping vehicles coming from Linden and from the East Coast,” he said.
He said that APNU campaigned on the basis of a government of national unity and it is maintaining this call since it is the best way to address Guyana’s social and economic woes, including building racial harmony. “APNU remains committed to the Government of National Unity,” he said.