The police must act in conformity with the law

Dear Editor,

I refer to an article published in the Guyana Times of Sunday, November 13, captioned, ‘Govt’s crime-fighting failures defy logic, commonsense  -Jagdeo …says Army should have been deployed earlier.’
The article quoted former president and Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo as saying, “I spoke to a few policemen and they said to me, ‘we don’t want to get into trouble with the Government because they’ve sent a clear signal that we must not shoot (criminals) and we aren’t going to put our lives on the line”. I am inferring here that the remarks which Mr Jagdeo claimed were made to him by ‘a few policemen’ “not to shoot”, to mean not to shoot to kill. I say this because members of the Guyana Police Force continue to shoot at criminals (killing some of them in the process) whenever they feel the situation requires that course of action.

Jagdeo continued, “The pardoning of criminals, the order to Police to “bring them in alive … are reasons that embolden the criminals”. This is a good point for reflection. On my part since the APNU+AFC government took office I have not written on the issue of crime and crime-fighting, and I did so for what I believe, are good reasons. I want to put on the public record that I am one of the many thousands of people who stand in support of the government’s policy, which demands that the police must act in conformity with the law as it relates to how they use their weapons as they carry out their duties. The law, to my mind, is very clear on the issue of the use of force by members of the force ‒ not more than what is necessary. We have to decide here in Guyana whether we want to be a law-abiding society that respects the rule of law and the right to life or whether we want to live in the Wild West.

The Opposition Leader’s remarks cited above are reminiscent of some he had made during his tenure as President of Guyana (some will remember his instructions to the forces involved in the siege of Linden (Blackie) London and they demonstrate that he has not learned the lessons from his government’s misadventure in dealing with crime).  I wish to take this opportunity to remind the nation and the PPP/C leadership that the crime/security crisis of 2002 to 2008 did not drop from the skies. It was the result of the then regime’s policy that encouraged the Black Clothes/Tactical Service Unit to shoot and kill, particularly young African Guyanese men, without giving them the benefit of due process. Readers will also recall that in spite of several protest demonstrations and appeals by individuals and organizations to the rulers for a change in policy, Mr Jagdeo ignored all those calls and continued his ‘shoot to kill policy’ unabated.

Mr Jagdeo and his government refused to be guided by international protocols relating to crime-fighting. It has often been demonstrated that once police/security forces adopt the policy of killing people willy-nilly it is only a matter of time before the brutalized organize in defence of themselves. This is what took place in Guyana. When the reality of their actions finally dawned on the leaders of the PPP/C regime and the shoot to kill tactics of the police became counterproductive, they further compounded the problem.

It was Mr Jagdeo and the PPP/C’s actions which spawned the rise of phantom forces and their murderous/killing spree. In 2002-08 Guyana endured the worst crime-fighting crisis in our modern history.  Added to this were the negative effects of the PPP/C’s economic and social policies of marginalization. The blame for our present crime dilemma must, in a large part, be laid at the door of the opposition PPP/C, not the present government. This is not to deny that the government has a responsibility to deal with this matter in the interest of the nation.
President David Granger‘s position that he prefers to see fewer guns in the hands of civilians, meaning both illegal and legal guns, was misrepresented by Mr Jagdeo, who, very opportunistically, only addressed the latter aspect. In going that route Mr Jagdeo, as is usually the case, was attempting to gain as much political mileage as he could out of the situation.  Given our negative history in crime-fighting and the relative ease with which some persons have, over the last 20 years, been able to obtain firearms, legally and illegally, and the corresponding rise in gun related crimes and murders, it is only natural that a responsible government will have to direct its attention to the gun phenomenon in the society.

It would have been prudent for the President and government to just implement the policy. Since we are not known to be a nation that deals rationally with the issue of crime and crime-fighting, our political culture does not allow for a non-partisan and objective discussion on crime and crime-fighting. As a result it must be noted that it is almost impossible in Guyana to have a mature discourse on crime and the best approaches to deal with it. I believe that the President’s position that he wants to see fewer guns in the hands of citizens is an enlightened policy and is in keeping with international best practice. Too many guns in the hands of the populace contribute to worsening the situation as it relates to gun crimes. The USA is a good example that demonstrates that guns in the hands of citizens do not reduce the crime rate or reduce gun killings.

In closing let me share two stories I often tell my comrades when discussing ways and means to address the crime problem.  The first relates to the period in the ʼ70s while I was a student in Christ Church Secondary School. At that time the big crime problems in Guyana was choke and rob, and snatching.  Members of the police force during that period did not as a rule, carry guns on normal patrol, only on special operations. To address the escalating crime situation the government took the decision to arm the police. As students we debated the new policy of the government: some for and some against. Those in support felt that the policy will reduce the incidence of crime, those against felt it would not, and was more likely to force criminals into getting guns. The rest is history; we continue from that point to slide down the slippery slope.

The second is about an experience I had with some Brazilians who were in Guyana. In a discourse on crime, one of them said, “Guyana has nice thief men – they just rob you; in Brazil they shoot and kill you then rob you”. The lesson here is that as bad as our crime problem is, as a nation we have to be mindful that in our efforts to address the situation we don’t unintentionally make it worse.

Yours faithfully,
Tacuma Ogunseye


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