Abominable silence from important sections of society on shooting of 15-year-old by policeman

Dear Editor,

What is increasingly clear to me is that the PPP is institutionally and irredeemably corrupt. The mindless ethnic voting and the resulting two decades of executive and legislative hegemony have provided the party with a Gyges’ Ring of inscrutability under which all acts that seek to promote individual wealth and immoral licence are permissible.

The sexual allegations scandal coming out from the ironically titled New Opportunity Corps, and its subsequent denial by the Minister is one example of how young people that don’t fall into the PPP’s nepotistic and tribal circle of protection are treated.

Today, the educated and the moneyed classes in Guyana remain silent or at best inconsistent and oblique in even seeking to simply identify the most egregious acts, the most glaring of wrongs. Eleven years ago, there were student marches and a great public outcry at the police killing of Yohance Douglas and the injury of his friends. Today, the unlawful detention, beating and shooting of a fifteen-year-old, Alex Griffith, has been met by silence by people who themselves have children, and who enjoy otherwise prominent positions in society.

Nobody wants to lose a government contract, or to fall out of favour with the government officials that they schmooze with at cocktail parties or at PTA meetings so they refuse to publicly condemn an act, committed against a minor civilian citizen, that would be considered in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, to which Guyana is a signatory.   I don’t say that in a hyperbolic manner – Convention IV, which deals with the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, prohibits the following in relation to non-combatants, including even incapacitated soldiers:

“(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) taking of hostages;

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

A 15-year-old Guyanese, on suspicion of being a witness to a crime, was subjected to all the acts prohibited in (a)-(c), and partially (d), and everyone from the GCCI to the PSC to Transparency International (Guyana) to the Guyana Bar Association and even the Guyana Human Rights Association are completely silent on what the Stabroek News editorial of May 8 correctly labels an “Open and shut case.”

Their state counterparts are no different – the Minister of Education, herself a mother, is silent on the state abuse of a school-aged child; the same goes for the Minister of Human Services, also a mother, under whose portfolio the Child Care and Protection Agency falls. The President, a father of three, even as he criticized the Guyana Police Force a few weeks ago on its failure to adequately investigate and aid in the prosecution of murder cases, has said nothing about the failure of the GPF to speedily ensure justice is delivered in this case. The Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO) even as it is sponsoring an essay competition on Cheddi Jagan’s “struggle for independence” is silent on the exact sort of state excess that Jagan himself would have rallied against.

The political opposition’s response to these issues has been fragmentary and inconsistent at best. APNU’s Chris Jones has admirably taken the lead in bringing the NOC issue into the public domain, but the party has taken the curious approach of compiling a dossier to distribute to international organisations, instead of using its tremendous influence to have the allegations investigated locally and placed in the legal system. The Alliance For Change has, in its usual deference to the Minister in question, remained completely silent. And both parties have remained strangely silent on the Alex Griffith case with social activist, Mark Benschop, having taken on the onerous responsibility of representing the young man’s interest.

We have a government therefore that is defined by its hypocrisy and a horrific apathy for any atrocity that it sees as undermining its hegemony. We have a political opposition that seems compromised and selective in its representation of the interests of our young people in particular. Worse yet, we exist in a society that perpetuates itself on an increasing self-delusion and moral relativity.

People on social media are ‘outraged’ by every human rights campaign du jour from Kony 2012 to Stop Rape in India to #Bringbackourgirls, the latter in response to the Boko Haram mass kidnappings in Nigeria. Yet right here in Guyana you have accusations of institutionalized sexual and other abuse of minors at a state facility, and easily a dozen or more cases of the GPF abusing, torturing and killing young men, from Yohance Douglas to Teon Thomas to Shaquille Grant to Ron Somerset and Shemroy Bouyea to Colwyn Harding to now Alex Griffith, and there is no similar outcry, with only a handful of people turning up at protests organized by Sherlina Nageer in the NOC case, and by Benschop in the Alex Griffith case.

Against this backdrop, we have the ironic farce that is the PPP’s propagandistic ‘inquiry’ into the assassination of Walter Rodney. Then as now, we are faced with a cancerous government, a weak and ineffective opposition, and an ineffectual civil society run by a compromised middle class: what Rodney said almost four decades ago about where burden of responsibility for change has to fall is unfortunately still applicable today:

“The revolution is made by ordinary people, not by angels, made by people from all walks of life, and more particularly by the working class who are in the majority.”

Our ordinary, regular people, those whose children are in the greatest danger of being subject to state condoned or sponsored abuse, unlike the children of those in the government, the opposition, or upper crust-infested civil society, have to start organizing their own liberation from this system and calling those who purport to represent them to account. Otherwise, another 35 years are going to pass by, another generation, and Rodney’s works are still going to be relevant in a sad and stagnant society.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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