I decide to write this letter after the public emotions surrounding this incident had subsided, in order to have an objective discussion on the matter. The killing of five men in July 2018 by the police allegedly, in the process of committing a robbery at a house in Pattensen, Turkeyen, and the police’s explanation that the men engaged them in a shootout, raise many unanswered questions. So much so that Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo wasted no time to score political points – saying that if the same had occurred under the PPP government there would have been cries of extrajudicial killings, and both the police and the government would have been accused of plotting to kill black people.
For political and other reasons, the Granger-led APNU+AFC government cannot allow itself knowingly or unknowingly to support police excesses or criminality in any form whatsoever. The approach to not encourage police misconduct in crime-fighting will prove in the long-run to be in the best interest of the nation and the coalition. Present public outcries on the crime situation while understandable, cannot ever justify police wrongdoings. We must view this public response with caution since the public very often ignores the complexities of social problems. The opposition, however, is not as innocent as the masses, and their demand that the government takes a hard line on fighting crime should be viewed with great suspicion. The government must stand firm and insist that the police conduct themselves in keeping with the law and best professional practice.
Under the PPP, the nation experienced the horrors of that party and its government’s failed policy, the “so-called” war on crime, which resulted in hundreds of citizens being killed and the highest number of police officers killed at any time in the history of the Guyana Police Force. This was the worst crime crisis in the modern history of the country that demonstrated the PPP’s incompetence and partisan approach to governance of the country. It is often said that Guyanese have a short memory when it comes to some matters. Hopefully, on this issue of fighting crime, the APNU+AFC government will hold steadfast to the policy stated by Mr. Granger, after he became President, that he wants people arrested not killed since a dead man is of no intelligence value.
Now let us check the information that came from the police authorities in the recent killings: (1) in an early report the officers on the scene revealed that the operation was intelligence driven – inferring that the police had knowledge of the pending robbery and executed a well thought out plan. (2) The Crime Chief when interviewed by reporters claimed that the police received a 911 call that the robbery was in progress, and dispatched two separate teams. The Major Crimes Unit was one of the two teams. A reliable source in the force with knowledge of the operations of this Unit expressed the view that it is unlikely at that time (3 am) that the officers in that unit would respond to a 911 call unless mobilized and on standby. If this was the case it confirms the claim made by the officers on the scene that the operation was intelligence driven. (3) The weapons-one rifle and two shotguns- displayed at the police press conference looked rusted and raise the issue of whether they were in working condition. Putting aside this observation, a more troubling issue is that the police claimed to recover a number of 9mm bullet shells. However, these shells are not compatible with the types of weapons that were displayed. (4) A senior journalist with vast experience at viewing gunshot victims expressed the opinion that some of the men appeared to have wounds consistent with being shot at close range. (5) The police claimed that after the first exchange of gunfire that left three dead in the yard, a white car drove up and opened fire on the police, who took cover and returned fire killing the two men in the car. This version of events runs contrary to common sense and needs to be properly investigated to ascertain if the wounds on the men in the car were consistent with an exchange of gunfire from a distance.
By now the authorities must know that there are conflicting theories as to how and why the men were killed. More often than not, the police account seeks to protect the force‘s image and in so doing, at times, support the criminal conduct of officers gone rogue, thereby undermining public confidence in the integrity of the force as an institution.
With an apparent increase in some types of violent crimes in the society and the media playing up these sensational incidents, we have a citizenry weary of crime and anxious for solutions. In this situation, the masses are gullible and likely to tolerate extra-judicial killings by the police without factoring in the negative consequences to society when police act as judge and executioner. In this atmosphere, it is easy for politicians in and out of government to abandon principle, the law, and good governance, and seek to make political mileage as well as take advantage of the public fear of crime. Jagdeo’s pointed response in the killing of the five men by the police is an example of this opportunistic and dangerous politics.