Crime Chief Seelall Persaud yesterday said that police ranks will take necessary action against any illegal activities, as the police force defended the actions of a squad that opened fire on A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) protestors and injured several persons.
“Police have to take action whenever there are illegal activities,” he said, when asked if police could not have used a different course of action to disperse the crowd. Police had said that the protest was unauthorised.
In a press release yesterday, police said that it was “unfortunate” that some people were shot during the demonstration and that contrary to news reports no tear gas was used.
Several protestors, including former GDF Chief of Staff Edward Collins, attorney James Bond and former PNCR-1G parliamentarian Joan Baveghems, 69, were fired on with rubber bullets. The force said that the demonstration was illegal and the marchers had been warned several times to disperse to no avail.
The police release yesterday said that “in response to public demonstrations it was most unfortunate that persons were shot, though not seriously injured, and reports have stated that children were discomfited and inconvenienced in schools in the areas of operation.” The force made it clear that “its intention is always to maintain law and order. However, no tear gas was used during yesterday (Tuesday) to disperse the protestors. Our actions are usually in the interest of the maintenance of law and order and in support of the safety, security and well-being of all Guyanese.”
Eight students and a teacher of the St. Sidwell’s Primary School were rushed to the Georgetown Hospital suffering from the effects of tear gas.
An upset head teacher Donna Morgan had told reporters that it was the police who threw tear gas. Onlookers, she said, stood on the on the edge of the Square of the Revolution but as the police proceeded to clear the area, the lawmen turned their attention on them and urged them to move off of the scene.
As persons ran in various directions, a group of policemen followed and the lawmen fired tear gas in their direction.
This was done within a stone’s throw of the school.
Questions have been raised as to why the recently acquired water cannon was not used to disperse the protestors.
When asked about this, Persaud directed this newspaper to Police Commissioner Henry Greene. Several efforts to reach Greene were futile.
Greene, in accepting the cannon, had said that part of the force’s strategy in maintaining public order and preserving peace is through the use of minimum force.
The water cannon, he said, is just the equipment for non-lethal force.
“The water cannon is intended to be used in environments where there’s crowd disorder, things are totally out of control and there’s need for the police to bring back some semblance of order,” he had explained. He further said that a few years back, during a riot on Regent Street, the force had to resort to assistance from a Guyana Fire Service vehicle for crowd control.
Based on what Stabroek News was told, the water cannon is parked in the compound of the Tactical Services Unit at Police Headquarters, Eve Leary.
Meanwhile, a security source told this newspaper yesterday that clearly what occurred on Tuesday was out of order when one looks at the training of the riot squad. The source explained that if there is an illegal march, ranks’ first course of action is to stop the marchers by warning them.
The source told Stabroek News that if they refuse to heed the warning, then ranks would use a “baton charge and arrest as many persons as they can.” According to the source, Tuesday’s incident was a perfect opportunity for the police to put the water cannon into action.
“That would have been acceptable. That was wrong—to fire rubber bullets at a peaceful protest. Guns are not acceptable,” the source stressed, adding that ranks are supposed to use minimum force when dealing with such situations. It was pointed out that there were no reports of the protestors attacking persons, stoning buildings or lighting fires.
“They (the police) cannot defend this action,” the source noted.
Based on the accounts given, the police had warned the protestors to disperse. At some point the two groups had a clash after the protestors failed to heed the warning.
Police later fired rubber bullets into the crowd.