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By Lincoln Lewis
The conduct of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) over the last few weeks is cause for grave concern. The issue that led to the arrest of Christopher Jones, which was being recorded live for all to see, showed a Force far removed from its relationship with the community citizens felt they were working hard to cultivate.
Within the last five years society has grown accustomed to a policing climate where even the most dreaded criminal would have had his rights read to him and his day in court. The GPF was prepared to respect the Constitution and Laws of Guyana, and its motto of “Service and Protection.” Thus, to see within the past days an Order of the Court, as in the case of Mr. Jones, step on, gives the impression Guyana is returning to an era that evokes painful community/police relations. It was an era when citizens were fearful the police would operate as judge, jury and executioner; deprive them of basic rights, including counsel, due process and their day in court. These transgressions came at the behest of the political directorate or rogue officers who felt they had political protection.
Tuesday’s incident with the police and Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo showed a Force comfortable engaging in excessive force, bowing to the political directorate, and going so far to refuse legal counsel to Mingo. Such actions signify an early return to human rights violations and using the Force as a means of executing political vendettas. No decent law-abiding Guyanese should countenance these behaviors irrespective of who are targeted by the Police for these have likely consequences for building a society of law and order and guaranteeing safety for all its citizens.
One must ask the question if Robeson Benn was appointed Minister of Public Security to execute and ensure that the GPF function to serve and protect only the political directorate and not the citizens to whom it is responsible. Minister Benn has a history of carrying out ruthless activities on behalf of the PPP. Him heading the GPF offers no comfort after hearing stories being told about his ruthless nature. At this point it may be a stretch of the imagination to make any comparison Tonton Macoute of Haiti and other similar forces historically and around the world where oppressive regimes exist. They all had early beginnings when people took actions for granted and deemed them minor offences.
The scaling of fence and breaking down door even when unwarranted and the court order disregard are condemned in the strongest possible term. Likewise, is the confiscation of an accused phone and deprival of access to legal counsel. These violations should not be countenanced by the Police high command, government or society. In other societies the police top brass would have felt compelled to hold a press conference addressing these issues out of respect for their profession, the law, and maintaining good relations with the people. It still remains the right and decent thing to do.
It is this environment Senior Superintendent Wendell Blanhum has returned to the post as Crime Chief and which has already formed a part of his legacy based on his stewardship. His earlier record is one where he was recognised as a professional and competent officer in this post. It was then the belief of many that he executed his duties within the confines of the law without fear and favour. I am on public record expressing dissent when he was removed by the Coalition Government. Today I am on record, this time expressing the hope that he has not forgotten his duty to maintain the professionalism that he was known for lest that legacy become tainted by the belief that he is out for vendettas and becoming a tool of others.
Acting Commissioner Nigel Hoppie must establish uncompromisable professional standards within the Force that he commands. He must direct his officers to desist from re-emerging lawlessness and must repel the wishes/orders of the political directorate that run contrary to the fulfilment of a professional police force. Society demands no more, no less.