“I feel really bad and frustrated about this whole thing, me nah know why de police would do something like dah to me. And me get children, bear girl children and fuh dem to know dah is wah I guh through is nah easy. Mom leh me tell you something I ain’t really feeling righted now.”
And Alisha Harry began to sob.
I first read of Harry’s horrific experience at the hands of ranks of the Guyana Police Force in the Guyana Times and to say I was shocked is an understatement. This woman was stripped naked and made to spend several hours in a dirty cell at the Rose Hall Police Outpost.
I made contact with the 36-year-old mother of five daughters via telephone because I wanted to hear from her. I was pained and troubled by what I had read. At the end of our conversation I regretted calling her because of how affected she was by the incident but also by her troubled life experiences, some of which she shared.
Harry spoke in a sometimes incoherent manner and sobbed throughout the conversation and as a result I was not able to capture everything she said.
“Right now, me pressure raise. I not eating mom. I can’t eat. This thing really get to me. But I have to try because me children have to go to school because I want all a dem to have a education,” she said.
Her daughters’ ages range from 16 to four years old. The last two are twins and do not have the same father as their older sisters.
“You know how I feel to sit on dah nasty ground naked…? she asked in tears.
I could not answer her and I tried not to imagine.
“I try not to sit down but me foot been a swell up because the gate fall down on it and dem police beat me up and I had to sit down. I couldn’t stoop down because de pain too much, it too much you hear me,” she cried.
Harry’s ordeal started at around at around 7 pm on October 26, when, according to her, police swooped down on the home of her aunt next door and not only manhandled the woman but also her teenage daughters.
According to Harry, her aunt ran into her yard “fuh rescue from the police. When dem go to me aunty house she went by me because she been just come home from work. She went over and dem say how dem come fuh search she house and she ask dem if dem get warrant and one a dem tell she ‘this is nah America’ and dem run up in she house where she children dem went.
“Me aunty start quarrel up with de police and she daughter dem start quarrel to and she run over by me and dem come fuh she and I tell dem lef she is a woman why dem behaving suh. And a set a people come out pun de road. Dem start to beat me, dem police this beat me and when me went by me gate the gate fall pun me foot.”
Eventually, she related, the police officers left, but returned with “back up like if we is big criminal or something” and they arrested her aunt and her daughters, inclusive of the teenagers. They were kept overnight and released on bail.
On Sunday, October 28, Harry said, she visited the hospital and got a medical which she took to the police station. Her ordeal become worse when ranks visited her the following day (Monday, October 29th) and arrested her.
“I was begging dem and tell dem is bear girl children me gat and nobody to look dem if I get arrest. Dem carry me to de station and me still crying and a beg dem and one a dem say ‘put she in de lockup fuh 72 hours’,” she said.
“Now when dem put me in de lockup, this thing just frustrate me and I tell dem I just feel like killing me self because dah is how I feel. When me say so, three woman police come in de lockup and tek off me clothes. Is dem tek me clothes. Dem tek off me pants, me jersey, panty, brassiere everything and just lef me in de lockup naked,” she said this haltingly and I believe she was ashamed to relive this experience.
“Whole day me in the lockups naked and just after dem lef a male prisoner in the passageway and he been watching me and den dem tek he and put he in de cell next to me. And when de male police putting he in de cell he been looking at me to and I say ‘officer don’t peep at me.’ Is till late in de afternoon when dem want carry me to Whim dat dem send fuh clothes and I put on back clothes till near seven o’clock.”
The woman was then driven to Whim Police Station where she said she discovered that $1,400 which she had lodged with her other personal belongings was missing. She spent the night at Whim and was released on $20,000 bail and was told she would be charged with damage to a police vehicle.
“But me ain’t know but nothing like dah. Is deh gate fall down on me foot and it must be damage the police vehicle but the police been a beat me too much,” the woman said.
“I want justice, m’aam. Police must not beat a woman and children like a dah. We want justice. We innocent. We didn’t do a crime fuh de police come and behave like a dah,” the woman cried.
She said she works hard as a vendor to support her children as she wants a better life for them.
“Me nah abandon me children. I does live fuh dem. Me nah ask nobody fuh anything fuh dem a guh school,” she continued.
“When I come home back from de lock-up me hear how de father fuh deh two lil one tek dem, and de two big one went by a aunty and de other one by a cousin. Dah is how me children had to spend de night because is girl children, dem can’t stay home alone. Dah is wah the police put we through. Fuh nothing!” the woman cried.
“Me does tell me children how me want dem fuh go to school and put education in dem brain because me nah want dem to punish like me. Me punish bad mom, bad, bad. Me been a run away and went away with dem three big one father,” she said.
She said she was 17 years old at the time and had stayed out all night and when she returned home, she was beaten mercilessly.
“Me uncle been a beat me bad and me just run away and went and live with he. But you think he treat me good? He use to beat me bad. He chop me up all in me head; it was bear licks. Me couldn’t tek it no mo and me went back by me mother with me children and he never use to mine dem children. When I summons he you know what he do? He went away to Suriname and me never hear back from he,” she shared.
“Right now is me alone. Me nah get no brother, nothing. Me mother live in de island but she can’t really help me because me sister, me only sister, sick and me mother does have nuff, nuff bills. I live in me mother house, but a still gaffo pay light bill and water bill and it hard pun me. I use to get public assistance but since me get dem two last children dem say how me gat man now so me can’t get no help. He don’t live with me. He does just visit, because he and dem big girls don’t get a long and me children dem come first,” she continued.
“Mom, leh me tell you something sometimes I does feel so frustrated that I could just drink poison. Mom you must call me back and talk to me. Right now me just want people to call me and talk to me. And mom, if anything wrong with me you must come and mek sure me children dem get put in a orphanage because me nah want dem live on the street,” she said, breaking down at this point into uncontrollable sobs.
I felt helpless, but I promised to call her; a promise I intend to keep.
I got the impression that she wanted the conversation to continue but I was so overwhelmed at that point I wanted it to end.
“Okay mom, I know you have to go but call me back right? You must call me…,” she pleaded through sobs.
Like the many women I encounter frequently I could not help but wonder what will become of Harry and her children as her situation sounded so desperate. There must be some system in place to assist struggling families like hers.
I have been informed that the police have since launched an investigation into this incident. Harry said two officers, who said they were from New Amsterdam, visited her home and took a statement from her, informing that they are investigating.
I was also informed that the police’s Standard Operation Procedure as it relates to persons in custody with suicidal tendencies is for ranks to remove all of their clothing. This should not be. How can the police remove the clothing of a woman (or man) and leave that person in a germ-infested cell? This is just not right. What about (as suggested by Chandra Sohan who had attempted to intervene on the woman’s behalf) handcuffing her hands together or to a chair or any other object?
The answer cannot lie in what transpired during last Monday at the Rose Hall Police Outpost.
Police ranks’ treatment of women over the last few days leaves much to be desired, to say the least.
Sandy Akra of Westminster, West Bank Demerara, last week complained of police continued harassment and shared how she was strip searched in the presence of male officers and her two sons at her home. Another woman in Alboystown recently reported being strip searched even though she had informed the police that she was in the middle of her menstrual cycle.
And these acts certainly do not mesh with the touted police reform by the Citizens’ Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP).
Such acts cannot be condoned by any right thinking society and the ranks who perpetrated them must be held accountable.