This time it’s a fifteen year old shot in the mouth in the open space. Another poor African Guyanese youth. The numbers swell. Again we mourn, bemoan, condemn. Some of us will picket and hold another forum. Police brutality will again be on the lips of those who are not muzzled by fear or accommodation. But will it make a difference? The evidence shows it has not over the last two decades. Why?
The police force is an institution of the state. It is part of the coercive arm of the state. Its violence against the citizenry is institutional. However much we are tempted to think otherwise, members of the police force do not act as individuals. Without that uniform and the authority that comes with it policemen and women would engage others differently.
Like other armed forces of the state, the police force is civilian-directed. The police force in Guyana has always been loyal to the government of the day, even when individually some or most of its members vote for the opposition party. Another state institution—the executive arm of the government—directs the police force. That executive arm of government determines police policy, decides how much police personnel are paid and who gets promoted or demoted or go on scholarships or get other privileges and perks. Although there is no hard evidence, it is well known that many people go into the police force primarily for economic reasons.
The executive arm of government in post-colonial Guyana is a creature of the ruling party. The ruling party has interests and uses the arms of the state to promote its interests. Those interests are driven by ethnic and class or ideological concerns. It’s economic, political, and cultural and security (police) policies flow from these concerns. Note the Head of State and Government, in his recent address to the Police Conference, did not highlight police brutality as a serious problem to be addressed by the touted police reforms.
I call it the policy of “Silent Concurrence,” whereby the party-government of the day turns a blind eye to official excesses in exchange for political loyalty. On the other hand, the government/state institutions, conscious of official expectations and fearful of official retaliation, develop a culture of accommodation and appeasement. The culture of brutality in the police force to which the Stabroek News Editorial (May 5, 2014) refers to is an incomplete thesis unless it is situated within the above context.
The last time I sought to draw the nexus between party-government interest and policy and police brutality, one major independent newspaper to which it was sent refused to carry the letter. A faceless nameless writer and a well-known race-man writing under a pen-name screamed that I was racist or something to that effect—the old story of those who expose racism being accused of racism.
Those who silence or downplay the fact that the victims of police institutional violence are disproportionately of one ethnic group, one social class and one party constituency are as guilty as the policemen who pull the triggers and the policymakers whose active policy of silent concurrence encourages such action.
The current Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry highlighting the nexus between party-government policy and police brutality and other forms of state and para-state violence is hypocritical. To see the nexus because it was executed by another party and the victims were the celebrated Walter Rodney and the WPA and not see it now because it’s the other party and another uncelebrated class of citizens is the height of racial and class bias and perhaps bigotry.