Ryan Crawford, whose middle name you will have to guess, is an attorney-at-law in practice in Berbice, and the son of the late Marcel Crawford, one of the Ancient County’s distinguished lawyers. He was the victim of a stop on the East Coast public road by police on Thursday last, presumably while on his way up to Berbice. Mr. Crawford became incensed and let loose a tirade of expletives, objecting to the stop by the police. Punctuated by a repetitive flow of profanity, Mr. Crawford declared his name, but with a qualifying expletive for his surname. With the same descriptive dexterity, he demanded that the police should tell him why he was … stopped, while at the same time informing the policeman that he can only be …. stopped if he was …. suspected of having committed a …. crime. He challenged the police to inform the …. President and the …. Vice President and whoever the …. else he wanted to and then drove off.
The incident was recorded and found its way on social media and, as is to be expected, there were many comments, some supportive and some condemnatory. The supportive comments expressed in various ways disapproval of the police activity of stopping vehicles on the road for no apparent reason, then requesting driving licences. A police stop is often accompanied by the inevitable request for a “raise.” Despite the decades of criticism of this type of police activity, nothing has ever been done by the authorities to restrain it.
There are associated and supplemental forms of shakedown. Towards the end of the last administration, policemen who were heavily armed with assault type weapons had begun to roam the streets in open vehicles, stopping vehicles, harassing citizens and demanding money. That activity appears to have ceased. Hiding out after stop signs has declined. At one time drivers, particularly women, were stopped after they had crossed on the green at traffic lights and accused of crossing on the red. They paid up in panic there and then or after the policeman entered the vehicle and told them to drive to the police station.
A demand to go to the police station is frightening. It involves hours of sitting on a bench. When eventually you are dealt with, a hefty dose of bail is imposed. If you do not have such a sum you have to find means to communicate with a family member to secure bail. This is a nightmare for the citizen, but it happens all the time. The police may then invite the person to attend a particular court the following day. The person would attend the court and waste the entire day for his or her name to be called by the magistrate. It would eventually turn out that no case had been filed or would be filed. If there is a charge, it takes months to conclude and the magistrate usually believes the evidence of the policeman. The victim often opts to plead guilty and pay a fine to save time.
On several occasions in the past the police authorities have announced that policemen have no right to request a vehicle owner to go to the police station for a minor offence. This, of course, has never been observed by traffic policemen who continue to hold on to drivers’ licences and demand that drivers go to police stations. I have been the victim of most of these forms of harassment and so have family members and friends who have called me for assistance and advice. So have most of the thousands of drivers on the road. A traffic policeman’s position is seen as a lucrative one.
Mr. Crawford probably has a legal practice in traffic cases and would have had many complaints about the activities and behaviour of traffic police and been the victim of many on his frequent trips to Georgetown. He exploded this time. Like in the Serena Williams case, Mr. Crawford’s reaction was understandable but not excusable.
Even though I have had my share of police stops, I try to maintain calm and when necessary bluff my way through. Some time ago during the early morning hours, I was driving my car to the High Court in New Amsterdam with Mr. Edward Luckhoo in the passenger seat. We were representing defendants in a civil case. I saw a policeman on the road on approaching Cove and John police station. I immediately realized that I had forgotten my driver’s licence at home. I stopped at the policeman’s signal but did not give him a chance. I rolled down my window, stuck my hand out, grabbed his firmly, introduced myself, adding “senior counsel,” then introduced “Mr. Edward Luckhoo, Senior Counsel.” He could see the court papers, jackets and robes on the back seat of the car. I explained in the same friendly and ebullient manner that we were on our way to the New Amsterdam High Court on the hearing of a large civil claim and we were running a bit late. The policeman said: “Proceed, sir, and drive safely.”
This column is reproduced, with permission, from Ralph Ramkarran’s blog, www.conversationtree.gy