Horrific family violence that left a Better Success, Essequibo Coast man dead and his sister charged with killing him has once again placed focus on the abuse of alcohol and its deadly consequences.
Dozens of deaths attributed to domestic violence, disorderly behaviour and accidents continue to be underpinned by the abuse of alcohol and raise questions about what the authorities are doing.
On August 25, Maxton Orlando Lawrie, 30, was allegedly knifed to death by his sister after he came home in a drunken state and began behaving disorderly. Police have said that around 1am on that day, a drunken Lawrie went home and started to abuse his parents, Maxwell and Tosomattie Lawrie, and his sister, Stephanie.
He allegedly dealt his father a cuff to his face, after which he went to the door of his sister’s room and kept knocking. He demanded that she open the door and started calling her names. As a result, she eventually opened the door and an argument ensued.
At the time, Lawrie was armed with a knife, which he reportedly raised to his sister and, in an act of self defence, she allegedly pushed him, causing him to fall forward on the knife, which resulted in him suffering a fatal stab wound to the abdomen. Stephanie then began to scream and alerted her family to what had occurred. Lawrie was immediately rushed to the Suddie Public Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival by a doctor. Stephanie has since been charged with the killing and is on $400, 000 bail.
Alcohol abuse is of great worry to Deleep Singh, President of the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce, who says that it is most prevalent among young people in the area and, if allowed to continue, could result in more cases like the Better Success killing.
Stabroek New recently spoke with police officials as well as residents who say that there is no alcohol problem on the Essequibo Coast. However, Singh, a Hindu religious leader, presented a different view, while noting that “rum shops” are open way beyond the 2am curfew and that drunken persons could be seen staggering along the roadway from as early as 8am.
Singh said that excessive alcohol consumption is a problem across the whole country and noted that the authorities, including Customs (the Guyana Revenue Authority) need to enforce the law as rum shops are “open all time, every day.”
He explained that even on a Sunday alcohol is being sold and what is of even more concern is that children go in to buy the product from these shops, which open their doors very early in the morning.
“Children going there and buying alcohol. There are a lot of drunk people…from as early as eight o’ clock,” he said.
Singh acknowledged that neither he nor the Chamber had raised the issue with the police. He opined that it would be better to utilise the media to get their position across rather than approaching the police directly as if the issue is printed in the press, the authorities are more likely to act.
“The media is the best way. The media is very effective because if you say rum shops are open early Sunday morning and young kids going in there to buy alcohol, the authorities will act,” he said.
He added that the Chamber would raise the issue of excessive alcohol consumption at its suicide seminars, which are held about twice a year, as it believes that the two are linked.
Singh said he uses his role as a religious leader to reach out to young people and parents on the issue of alcohol consumption.
“I engage young people and parents and we talk about it,” he noted, while mentioning that his only concern is that he is not able to engage with many fathers as they do not attend religious functions. “I need to be talking to both parents and not just mother but it is the mothers who always attend these functions,” he said.
He added that the lack of jobs on the Essequibo Coast had opened the door for more alcohol consumption and he said that once jobs are available, people would have less free time to drink.
“I do have that fear that it [alcohol-fuelled incidents] will escalate,” he said, while adding that there is already evidence of this as there has been an increase in accidents but one would not know it is due to drunk driving unless it is fatal.
Stabroek News made efforts to gather information on Lawrie’s drinking habits prior to his death. Reports are that his mother had told the police that Lawrie would habitually return home drunk and would verbally abuse his sister. These prior incidents were reported to the police.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health Dr. George Norton said that when he first heard of the Lawrie killing, his first reaction was “that we have got to be more proactive. We can’t wait for such accidents to happen before we start putting legislation in place.”
He said that the owner of the place where Lawrie might have been drinking has to bear some of the responsibility for what has happened. “We have got to educate ourselves, also those who are in that entertainment industry (bars), who are serving (alcohol)…,” he said, while noting that we have to be “our brother’s keeper.”
Norton added that if you see someone who is clearly drunk, offer to take them home. He pointed out that he does not see caring and compassionate people and this is part of the problem. He said that there is also a nexus between popularity and drinking. “Friends will seek you out…for you to buy them a drink …In Guyana you call up a round, you pay for the round…,” he noted.
He said that promotions such as ‘Happy Hour,’ ‘Buy one, get one free’ and ‘Five beers for $1,000,” need to be gotten rid of.
Asked about if there were many reports of alcohol abuse along the Essequibo Coast, he said that he would not want to single out the area. He said that it is happening “all across the country,” while noting that it is not that there is an absence of legislation in place. Enforce-ment of the existing laws and a multi sectorial approach are needed to tackle the issue, he emphasised.
Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence said when she sees media reports about the effects of alcohol on persons, she always questions the absence of prior intervention. “What has happened to the neighbourly love and the community commitment to each other and that brotherly/sisterly concern about each other? What has happened to the man or the woman who is selling this person the alcohol saying, ‘you have had too much, I am not selling you anymore?’” she questioned.
She said the responsibility is not just on the family but all of us. “It takes a village to raise a child. Many times it’s that the family is not speaking to that individual,” she said.
President David Granger, in the wake of a doubling of drunk driving cases in 2015, had told Stabroek News that his government was very concerned about excessive drinking and the effects it was having on the country.
He had described alcohol abuse as “one of two evils” that the country has to contain and assured that, over time, measures will be put in place to deal with it.