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The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) in a strongly worded statement expressed its condemnation, without reservation, the criminal behaviour of those people who took advantage of the East Coast Demerara (ECD) demonstrations to rob, assault and terrorise stallholders, bus-drivers and other by-standers, and calls for the perpetrators to face justice. The body said, equally to be condemned is the violent and undisciplined behavior of the Guyana Police Force /Joint Services both for the expansion of the protest along the East Coast and the terrorising of the residents of Golden Grove village throughout the night of June 28th.
GHRA drew attention to, “the disproportion between the alleged cause of the violence and the response, namely, the belief that the police officer responsible for the death by shooting of Quindon Bacchus had been released from custody, seems to point to long-standing poor relations between the Guyana Police Force and the communities.”
In reviewing the incident of June 28th, the organisation said the “events surrounding the shooting are not complicated. A police operation appears to have gotten out of hand and resulted in the death. The only unknown is the degree to which the operation was officially authorised as opposed to carried out by people who were police officers. The weakness in the police response is well-known to police forces – both here and elsewhere – namely that of police investigating themselves.”
23-year-old Bacchus of Golden Grove ECD was shot dead on June 10, 2022, in Haslington ECD, allegedly by policeman Kristoff DeNobrega, when members of the Force were allegedly conducting a sting operation for illegal guns in the area. The Post Mortem Report, released by the Guyana Police Force (GPF), revealed Bacchus died from multiple gunshot wounds. He was shot six times- five times to the back and once to the chest.
Casting doubts on the police’s effort at guaranteeing a credible investigation into Bacchus’ death, the GHRA stated that resurrecting the Police Complaints Authority from its slumbers and invoking the Office of Professional Responsibility to suggest impartiality, both of which ultimately are subject to the Police Commissioner, are neither transparent nor convincing. The protesting crowds, it said, were egged on by hearing the suspect is under something known as ‘open arrest’, where the detainee is confined to the police compound – a privilege not known to be accorded to anyone other than police officers.
“These factors become irritants because the police presence in communities is not conducive to confidence. Relations have suffered from the increased militarisation of the GPF presence in rural communities, something which is now more akin to that of a militia than a police service. Police stations, surrounded by barbed wire and concrete epitomise military outposts rather than a protective presence. They repel rather than attract – especially womenfolk,” said the organisation.
The body in pointing to public confidence in the Force noted that community-based policing is further debased by reducing this to volunteer civilians in vehicles rather than bicycles, often incentivised by the hope of obtaining a gun license.
Zeroing closer on the new form of ‘policing,’ the organisation made known that “Moreover, the independence and, therefore, effectiveness, of the GPF has been systematically undermined by the politicised nature of senior appointments in the GPF and the Police Service Commission since the present administration took office. This is not a matter of the politics, or the ethnicity of the individuals promoted or demoted. It is an illusion to believe that such concerns are too distant to influence events such as that played out on the East Coast last week.
Turning attention to social media the GHRA bemoaned what it described as the “appalling absence of any control in Guyana [which] [e]nsure[s] the sensationalising of everything, unremittingly feed[s] into a sense of exclusion. We need to pay more attention to the speed through which social media impacts and inflames in the same way we need to separate criminality from genuine protest and the extent to which frustration over police incompetence encourages exaggerated reactions.”
Persons who the organisation felt displayed excessive response by blocking the main public road, causing disruption to others trying to go about their normal business on the East Coast, also came in for criticism.
Bacchus, the father of one, leaves to mourn his child, loved ones, villagers and all who condemn extrajudicial killings. The police are yet to determine if DeNobrega will be charged.