Law and disorder

This is shaping up to be a busy year for the Police Complaints Authority and the Office of Professional Responsibility. No sooner had they completed their respective investigations into the Colywyn Harding baton-rape and assault allegations than new ones emerged. This time it’s a 19-year-old Annandale resident who is alleging that the police burned his hands while he was being held at the Sparendaam Police Station.

Junior Thorrington’s burns were so bad, he required hospitalization. He has alleged that the police poured methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) on his hands and then lit them. A fuel and a solvent, methylated spirits is highly flammable. Chemistry students would have learned this in high school when building a spirit burner.

Because it burns easily and well, methylated spirits is said to be excellent for use by outdoor enthusiasts who like to go camping and may want to carry along a small stove rather than light a wood fire. Its use on the skin is mostly restricted to cleansing areas before administering injections and drawing blood for tests, and it is not to be drunk.

The police’s acid test for the flammability of methylated spirits was the burning of the genitals of 15-year-old Twyon Thomas five years ago, allegedly by two officers at the Leonora Police Station. Sergeant Narine Lall and Constable Mohanram Dolai were subsequently charged.

Frequently, at least once a week, defendants appearing before the courts allege that they were beaten and tortured by members of the Guyana Police Force to confess to the crimes with which they were subsequently charged. Magistrates would often order that they be taken for medical attention, particularly in the face of visible marks of violence about their bodies. These matters have become almost routine and are usually not investigated. No officer is held responsible; no one faces disciplinary action or is ever charged. The defendants are far more concerned with the cases against them.

There were other high-profile instances, like the 2007 cases involving Buxtonians Patrick Sumner and Victor Jones and later David Leander, where there was graphic physical evidence. Who can forget the photos of the men’s injuries? There was an especially telling photograph of Leander, known as ‘Biscuit’ being carried into the Georgetown Magistrate’s Courts as he was so badly injured that he could not walk. This occurred while the men were in the custody of the joint services and Leander later died mysteriously. The police commissioner at the time, the late Henry Greene had insisted that the police never tortured them. He insinuated that they had been physically abused by members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).

There was an enquiry into those and other allegations made against the GDF at the time, but there were no sanctions meted out to those found responsible. Instead, the term “roughing up” was coined as part of the official response to the torture allegations.

Perhaps it is the unwillingness of the administration to hold the security forces responsible for these horrific acts that has emboldened them. But that’s only part of the problem. The larger part has to do with the fact that there is disorder and lawlessness in the armed forces, and this is a dangerous thing.

The disorder is manifested in several ways – the demanding and accepting of bribes; the use of police officers as enforcers by civilians; the harassment of ordinary folk who don’t toe a certain line; the assault and torture of suspects and extrajudicial killings.

It is unlikely that enquiries into these acts will see them halted, particularly when they appear to be done only as window dressing to stem the tide of negative public opinion. As has been advocated ad nauseam in these columns, what is needed is a complete reform of the Guyana Police Force. Until this is done, the police are only kidding themselves with their community-based feel good projects and the handing out of gifts to children in depressed areas, because nothing will change.

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