I am sad. So sad that tears came to my eyes when I thought of what I learned. I have prayed my prayers for peace; I (and many others) have asked that we all together as a nation seek peace throughout this season and it has been so. But today I am sad. I have heard the voices of others saying, there are those who call for peace, but others are crying for justice. But these are neither conflicting nor mutually exclusive; we can have them both, we need them both. Injustice is one of the greatest threats to peace, but we must remember that injustice can be fought without a loss of peace.
Yesterday I learned that a number of Guyanese citizens were injured by police who shot rubber bullets and threw tear gas canisters into a crowd of protesters who refused to disperse and go to their homes when told to do so. I cannot comment on the precise events leading to this show of force from the police, but everything I have read says that it is wrong. There is nothing that can justify opening fire on a crowd that simply refuses to be moved. Did they attack the officers? Did they show force?
The actions of the police have not only left some of these young people injured, but also injured a 79 year old, and children nearby were affected by the teargas. This is unjust, and justice must be served. Those issuing the commands and those carrying them out against better judgement should be brought to justice.
Guyana is in international news once again on this count. I would like to know who must we thank for it. The Jamaica Observer, Sign On San Diego, Salon, CBS News, ABC News, Jamaica News Planet, etc, all carry the same headline: ‘Political protesters in Guyana clash with police.‘ Could someone please tell me who to send the thank you letter to?
Last week we discovered that someone registered on the popular social media network Facebook using the name and photographs of someone [name given] was putting messages into the public domain filled with hate, racially derogatory remarks, gross disrespect for national leaders and false elections results. Today he is a free man as far as I know. He is free even though we were promised that anyone caught doing such things would be punished. He was dismissed as someone who does not exist, but the reality is that 15 minutes of searching will tell you that he is real and lives in Guyana. And so do his friends who commented in support of his hateful remarks. But they are free to roam while others voicing their opinions through peaceful protest are shot and teargassed.
In the late 1980s I was just about finishing up primary school when movies such as ‘Cry Freedom’ were released. To this day hearing the song ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ stirs my heart, for nothing more than what that cry had come to represent to a people engaged in a struggle against injustice. Every time I am personally handled unjustly by the police here, I am stirred inside, but God gives grace to maintain objectivity and civility. Every time I see someone handled unjustly by the police here, I am stirred inside. I look at my brother James’s back bleeding from the rubber pellets that struck him and I could cry. I look at the face of that young boy with tears running down his face and tears come to my eyes. I look at that elderly woman, someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother.
This requires some response from our national leaders; let their voices be heard on this. Everyone who took to the political stage during the rallies has a responsibility to continue to speak to the Guyanese people or be silent forever. They do not have to tell us if they support what these young people were protesting for, but they should tell us how they feel about the action of the police – are they for it or against it? Their silence might suggest the former.
I came to learn something of some Guyanese people over a three-day period spanning November 27 to 29, 2011. As a supervisor with the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) observer team, I started out calling the homes of people I had never met in my life (but who lived not too far from me) some time after 2100h on the 27th to tell them that I needed to drop off a package for them to work as observers of the electoral process. I was blown away by the fact that these people, young and old, got out of their beds and comfort zones with smiles on their faces and collected their packages up to about 0100h on the morning of the 28th. They all showed up at their polling stations to begin work before 0600h and returned to their homes after 2100h on the 28th. On the 29th they were still in high spirits and almost all said they would do it again in 5 years time. These people were volunteers, receiving a meagre stipend to cover them for the day, but many of them worked like their lives depended on this. These Guyanese people invested their time and energies to observe the conduct of our elections and thereby contribute towards the happiness and prosperity of Guyana. And they were not alone; all over the country EAB observers were hard at work for nothing more than love for their country. In the main office in Georgetown the same dedication could be observed: young men and women using their talents and losing sleep to make sure they did the job required.
These people have helped to strengthen my feeling of pride in my native land, even though others could have made me ashamed. Anyone who is a true Guyanese should consider being an EAB volunteer in the next election.
Tonight I am writing this still very proud of the Guyanese people. Stirred by the true love for this country I have seen demonstrated by so many, I am guilt ridden if I am to let their efforts for peace go to naught when I feel there is something I can do. There is something we all can do as Guyanese. While we may not feel as strongly about the cause that brought these young people to the streets in peaceful protest, if you are like me and you see what was done to them as an injustice, let your voice be heard. Let your leaders know that you are not pleased with this.
Say, “Your Excellency, President Donald Ramotar, I am a Guyanese citizen and I demand that justice be served and that peace reign.“
C R Bernard