Last week, a party of what opposition parties and rights groups are describing as a group of rogue cops, accidentally shot and killed 23-year-old Demeon Belgrave as he sipped a beer outside a popular hangout bar, putting a negative spotlight once again on the department, three months after it mowed down a group of opposition supporters and just weeks after another team executed a teenager in public view.
The shooting of Belgrave, about six hours before he turned 24, with high-powered rifles forced the police administration to take unusually quick steps to contain the public relations fallout from the latest judicial murder and in one of the few cases, and quickly admit culpability rather than alleging that the victim had had a weapon.
It also forced Guyanese to hark back to events leading up to a 2002 carnival day jailbreak by four prisoners on remand that triggered mayhem in the country and in particular, the deliberate targeting of a notorious gang of policemen who had had the open backing of government whenever they executed a citizen, regardless of the circumstances. When the dust cleared two years later, 27 law enforcement officers were killed, including 24 policemen, two special drug agents and a soldier, in what gangsters said was sweet revenge for years of brutality by members of the Guyana police force.
Fearing that a new round of similar troubles could befall the country and officers, Police Chief Leroy Brummel and acting National Security Minister Robeson Benn have both warned rogue cops that they will face the full brunt of the law if they breach rules and established norms.
In the case of Belgrave late on Friday night, police opened fire with rifles in the heart of a crowded bar missing their intended suspect “in a suspicious-looking car” and hitting an innocent bystander having a pre-birthday drink with buddies.
As it turned out, the car the cops were tailing and then chasing was being driven by an unlicensed, joyriding 15-year old who was wise enough to stop in a crowded area for fear that police would have riddled them and produce a gun alleging it was theirs. They opened fire anyway, killing Belgrave and sparking another round of outrage that forced Chief Brummel to admit that the situation is running out of control.
“I don’t intend to lead a police force where police are doing nonsense. It is very hard when people are doing nonsense and putting me under pressure,” he said as he visited Belgrave’s relatives at midweek, warning that murder charges will follow whenever such rogue and reckless behavior is exhibited.
His statements were made as police were preparing to ask France-based Interpol to help them find the two officers responsible for last month’s execution of a 17-year-old in a city district.
The two disappeared from detention when it became clear murder charges were pending, embarrassing the entire police administration and pushing them to tighten rules pertaining to detention of errant officers.
Minister Benn was a bit more blunt than Brummel, telling a group that “”there is no way that shooting in a crowded area could be justified without warning and other resorts being taken. When we get departures from what is required, it is either the culture — it is perhaps the culture of impunity which allows terrible things to happen,” he said.