Crime and Racism

by Rakesh Rampertab

As the anarchistic 2002 winds down, the PPP government and the PNC, with the aid of the Social Partners, still cannot come to an agreement on a final crime mandate due to “differences.” Before the concept of this “crime communiqué” came into being, the crime debate carried in the newspapers tried to make sense of what was happening. Unfortunately, this crime debate became prominent too late (after mid 2002), and remains flawed because it lacks one critical aspect—the nexus between racism and crime. Very few people spoke of crime as being influenced by a racial factor. Almost no one has touched the connection. As late as November and December 2002, retired Chief-of-Staff, (Brig. retrd.) Normal McLean, and PNC executive member, Mr. Raphael Trotman, writing respectively on crime and the business sector and crime fighting and the army, made no mention of the race factor.

Is there a connection? Yes. But let us look at the criminal landscape between January 2001 and December 2002-or almost two years, for the most part, as reflected in published crime stories in Guyana's top two papers, and other sources of information. Whether criminal activities are categories into small-scale petty crimes, hardcore violent crimes, and politically related crimes, in all three, the average perpetrator happens to be Black and the victim Indians.

One manner by which the perpetrators of crimes can be verified to be predominantly Blacks, is the court record of publicized cases for crime committed during the past two years. Secondly, from the number of Black criminals apprehended or killed. Additionally, in June 2001, the police issued a release stating to the effect that some clear patterns were visible from crimes being committed around that time—Indians were “selected” targets and 9 out of the 11 crimes tabulated, were committed by “Afro Guyanese men.” While PNC leader, Mr. Hoyte, criticized the release as an “irresponsible” act, the PPP did not dispute it.

PPP and race and crime: The PPP has long refused to see any link between racism and crime. Despite what was happening since 2001, on June 2, 2002, the PPP-controlled Chronicle reported that “at a news conference at State House in New Amsterdam at the end of a two-day Cabinet outreach in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne), he [President Jagdeo], said he sees the criminal situation in the country as purely criminal, and not racial or political.”  That same month, in an article on crime, PPP Minister of Information, Mr. Prem Misir, held the PPP fort firmly. First, he blamed politicians of using the “race card as an explanatory factor when it really is applied as a camouflage for their own political ends.” He noted, “The evidentiary basis for attributing the race factor to explain crime has to do with an oversimplified interpretation of the arithmetic on the number of East Indians and Africans robbed, killed, or otherwise victimized.” 

Oversimplified? Given the crime statistics and patterns, which showed that some people were easy target because of their racial makeup, Misir's position read more like partisan propaganda than hard honesty. Regardless, on July 26, the Guyana Human Rights Association issued a statement noting the "scale" of crimes being committed, their "political overtones," and "the racial animosity fuelled" by these crimes. This contrasted Misir's view that, "Currently, there is no reliable and valid evidence to support the notion that race/ethnicity is the cause of the recent killings" (June 2002). The Anita Singh case in which an Indian woman's hair was shaved off by a Black criminal (after he had robbed her family) because he did not "like her kind of people," killed Misir's arguments as well as those who held similar doubts. It shocked writers in the letter columns like Berkeley Van Bowen (of one International Human Rights Watch), who wrote; " It is important to note that criminals see no racial barriers and are motivated only by opportunity for gains. The reason it would appear that Indians are being singled out is because they are in most cases the ones with the wealth" (Stabroek News [SN], 8/06).

Individuals like van Bowen felt convinced, especially after a few months in early 2002 in which there were a series of crimes committed against Black families, that Indians were overtly playing the eternal victim. However, the government was, weeks after the July 3rd fiasco, altering its stance slightly, though still sending mixed messages, because of the Anita Singh case, and when Indian-populated Annandale became increasing under siege by roving gangs of Black youths. In September 2002, the “Office of the President” issues a report stating that there would be an increase in security presence along the Buxton/Annandale area because “acts of banditry could lead to a confrontation along ethnic lines.”

Was this not obvious from along time? What was preventing the PPP from making an open, specific statement about crime and racism and the obvious existing dangers? Was it because the party always prided itself as the Marxist champion of all races? Before Annandale and the roving gangs, they knew that on July 3rd, a “confrontation along ethnic lines” almost erupted between some 500 Buxtonians and Indians in Bladen Hall, when a Buxtonian (Mr. Blair) chopped and robbed an Indian woman (Ms. Ann Latchman). The police arrived just in time to arrest Mr. Blair who was rightfully harbored by a Black woman—it avoided possible large-scale blooshed.

That day Indians like Ms. Latchman and David Persaud were beaten and chopped and robbed because they were Indians. Homes in villages like Success came under attacks as protestors journeyed through—women were beaten, bicycles snatches, etc. The air of insecurity, especially when a mob descends, is ripe for racial acts to occur. Still, for those who asked for more evidence, the surfacing of the criminally aligned Black militants harbored in Buxton and led by the so-called five “freedom fighters” (or, “African Guyanese resistance fighters” as some, like WPA and Black-rights activist, Tacuma Ogunseye calls them), sufficed. As Frederick Kissoon aptly puts it, "The criminal conspiracy and the anti-Indian network in Buxton have merged" (SN, 10/25).

The "anti-Indian" agenda could not logically be denied now, after October 28 when seven gunmen-criminals including two Mash escapees lay dead, and a discovery of arsenal, including Molotov cocktail bombs and more than 3,000 bullets is made. Unlike the storming of the Presidential Complex, which the PNC leader, Mr. Deryck Bernard, referred to as the work of "a few hotheads," this could not be glossed over. On November 5th 2002, a Stabroek News editorial reads;"There is ample evidence now that there is in existence a group of African Guyanese militants who are conducting an armed struggle…It is a development which has thoroughly alarmed all who still believe in democracy, an open society and the rule of law and can only do the most serious damage to ethnic relations, involving as it does repeated attacks on and murders of Indians…"

PNC and race and crime: While the population may have agreed that PNC party policy did not involve these militants, one could not readily dismiss no connection whatsoever by any PNC members. In fact, on September 1st, a Stabroek News editorial commented on the ambivalent nature of the PNC image, on one hand noting, "Interestingly, the PNC/R executive has publicly recognized the fact that the bandits are threatening the very fabric of the state…it has now twice stepped across the line and offered dialogue on the question of crime." On the other, "The PNC, by not publicly breaking with those who have been pushing Black supremacy and violence and excusing murder, rape, and mayhem as revolution, has contributed in no small way to the crisis…"

Why did the PNC opt suddenly for a “dialogue” on crime, and why so late? What made other Black leaders now concerned? Why did WPA leaders Andaiye, David Hinds, and  Eusi Kwayana see the need to write on September 1st, that, “In the past, each of us has made statements condemning African Guyanese atrocities against Indian Guyanese, and we condemn them even more strongly now, as the violence becomes more brutal. A similar though less brutal violence has begun to spread to African Guyanese victims.” Well, first crime was not considered a serious problem in the Black community—certainly not by the PNC.

Whenever the PNC or Black leaders/organizations (WPA being the exception) addressed crime, it was from the interest of Blacks, or in defense of their political image. Despite PNC rejections of claims that criminals infiltrated PNC protests, at the PNC-organized funeral for Shaka Blair, the five escapees distributed pamphlets calling for the deaths of policemen and government officials. Like the PNC, the African Cultural Development Association (ACDA), called for investigations into alleged police extra-judicial killings of criminals because these were Black men. When news of a “phantom group” in operation against wanted gunmen-criminals surfaced, ACDA raised questions again. When this group was apprehended, and it seemed to consist of Indians working apparently, for powerful, wealthy Indians, both the ACDA and PNC expressed strong determination to ensure against any “cover up.” At no point, since 2001, did the ACDA or PNC issued concerns over crimes orchestrated against Indians, or showed interest in the exposure of the Black militancy network. The issue of race and crime for them swung the other way.

In early 2001, after the triple murders-executions of the Barrans/Jagdeo, I wrote in Stabroek News that "security" is Guyana's primary problem; that "right now, all else is trivial. Nothing else can or should be more important." In another letter in June, with crime skyrocketing in Berbice, I wrote again, saying, "…crime is NOT a problem in Guyana. If it were, Blacks and Indians would leave their political hats under the bed and fight against it…" Nobody picked up on this, neither the politicians nor leading political analysts.

Today, the PNC and Black community have been jerked from their placid positions by two things. First, between March and July 2002, a series of criminal attacks were carried out against Black families. For the first time, news of Black men attacking Black folks seeped out; one gang which raped two young Black women, even included some Indian criminals. This was hard to accept. It was clear that some Black criminals were deportees, without allegiance to either traditional party politics or community. Secondly, Black militants-gunmen attacking and killing Black policemen was equally unacceptable. Relation between the Police and the PNC/Black community is already strained. Together, this scenario in the Black community in which the PNC lacked full control.

Interestingly, the fractures within the PNC party between moderates (Hoyte, Trotman) and radicals (Corbin, Alexander) seemed to be reflected now in the populace, particularly in Buxton, between traditional village-supporters and those who believed in the so-called “resistance fighters,” those who jeered and booed the PNC leader during his last speech there—saying Buxton had no criminals. So, it was in the self-interest of the PNC to finally address crime—and not because they cared to see anti-Indian attacks stopped.

This becomes rigidly clear when senior PNC leaders like Bernard and Alexander publicly justified anti-Indian violence.   Bernard said, “I have no sympathy whatsoever to offer” to those suffered from attacks, and for making statements supporting the criminal “terrorism” on July 3rd [note, in May, this same Bernard, who is a dean at UG, wrote to this writer in the press, stating that his years as a public servant and teacher, prevents him from being a racist]. On August 14, 2002, in an interview with Stabroek News, Vice Chairman Alexander declares; “What I find is that even though these instances may be painful and costly, the accumulation of all these interactions and conflicts may result in a state of affairs, which is far better than that which existed before.” For him, anti-Indian violence was the “injection” needed to make Guyana better.

Political events and crime and racism: While the most common reasons given for crimes are poverty, unemployment, poor social conditions, etc., in the public domain, this "injection" sentiment took shape in our racially polarized Guyana in a political form long before the Black militants surfaced. Racism and crime have fused during anti-government protests, brining events for criminal disobedience instead of social protest. This may not be what the PNC plans, but this is what is happening, the worse case thus far occurred on January 12, 1998, when Indian women were stripped, fondled, and beaten in public-even by Black women. (See the GIFT Foundation Report called Civil Disorder-January 1998.) The 2001 elections brought again brought violence against Indians-in homes, streets, markets, in buses heading up the East Coast. For example, a group that included a Black woman stripped Ms. Bibi Nazmoon naked in her yard.

On July 3rd, 2002, at least one young Indian woman was forced to perform oral sex on a group of Black men. Red Thread Foundation, a feminist group, wrote a letter condemning all attacks on all women, but specifically "to condemn out of hand the racial attacks against Indo-Guyanese and some others…" "Individually and together we have said this before: in every war, the usual kind of abuse and violence, often sexual in nature that is used against women is multiplied. In Guyana, right now, Indo-Guyanese women are being targeted for that kind of violence" (SN, 7/09).

In a repeat of the April 2001 store burnings in which some 12-15 Indian-owned stores were burnt (not to mention homes and properties across the country that sent up in "mystery fires"), two Indian-owned stores were consumed. Mr. Ravi Dev (ROAR) pointed out (SN, 7/07) that the stores had to be "Indian-owned" to send home a racial point. Incidentally, one year before, the same sentiments were expressed by current Minister of Tourism, Mr. Manzoor Nadir, after his home was attacked;" You are either with them or against them and they are now making this out to be a race issue. I believe Indian people have to band together now. We have to seek security in our own way and I see myself being singled out because I'm an Indian leader and nothing else" (SN, April 2001).

Historically, the Guyanese Indian community has paid a heavy price to criminal activities. During the 80s, the “choke-and-rob” incidents exploded into “kick-down-the-door” tragedies, that resulted in scores of rapes and murders over the years, not to mention the capital loss and psychological demoralization suffered by Indians. Choke-and-rob became so prevalent, the Tradewinds commented on it in one of their songs, in which the character Wong Ping says, “Guyanese men too tired from choke-and-rob” to have proper sex. In 1985, Eusi Kwayana referred to the crimes against Indians as having a “flavor of genocide.” Thus, over the decades, crime against Indians by Blacks has fueled envy, hatred, and racial suspicion, which only resurfaced again.

Today, a new generation of Indians has their envy, hared, and suspicion—and it is worse than before because of the brutal, open nature of today’s crimes. For example, when five gunmen robbed Monica Bhagwandin of Hope, EBD, she was so poor that they men were about to kill her husband. He was saved when their children (boys, ages 5 to 11) kneeled and begged while crying for their parent’s lives. Apart from the brutal nature of the criminals, why would such a crime gang choose to rob a family this poor? Why the need to kill if there is nothing to loot? One thing is certain, the racial implications, especially for the children, are immense.

Women and crime: Suffering criminal brutality more than anyone are the women, particularly Indian women. While Indian women are stripped, fondled, or sexually harassed on the road during protests, they are raped and forced to strip under humiliating circumstances at homes. Pregnancy has not saved them; one pregnant Indian woman was shot, one stabbed in her knee, another dragged up a stairs and then out in her yard. Six-months pregnant Kalowattie Briglall (of Sophia) was not only stripped, but also beaten. Dhanmattie Harrycharran of Success was forced to strip in front of her children, in order to prevent her 11-yr-old daughter from being raped. To force her parents to disclose information, gunmen threatened to kill 11-yr-old Rokmini Narine.

Ms. Bediwattie Tikchand, of Sophia, a shopkeeper was shot and killed while her husband watched in early 2001, shortly after the elections. Her request for a gun license was still denied by the government. In October 2001, Savitri Prasad of East Bank, Essequibo, a widow and mother, was severely chopped about her face, hands, etc., raped while she bled, and then thrown into a canal—still alive. Strangely, her gold jewelry was stripped and left behind (see Defense of Our Women and Another Victim of Brutal Murder). By mid 2002, the news of more rapes in various villages flourished. A large scale attack on numerous families in Naon Pariel, ECD, by a group of criminals led by Premkumar Sukraj (aka "Inspector Gadget"), raped two young Indian women and set afire a widower. He died later from the burns.

The murders of women also continued—in gruesome fashion. Ms. Claudette Ng-Quan, owner of a sawmill on East Coast of Essequibo, was killed when some 15 gunmen (led my the escapees) invaded hers and her husband’s home from the ocean. Why was she killed? Was it because her husband, a former PNC financial contributor and MP, had switched over to the PPP? Ms. Monica Rodrigues, a smalltime businesswoman, is bound and gagged, beaten, and then strangled to death. In Berbice, almost in similar fashion, an elderly Indian businesswoman is found bound, gagged, and murdered. All three women were over fifty years old.

Racism is not a side issue in Guyana. Racism is and has always been a fundamental factor to crime in Guyana, even if it is not the primary influence in a crime committed, it certainly is a secondary factor. For too long people (Indian included) have accepted “wealth” (or poverty) as the primary reason behind crime. Poverty is indeed a factor, but it not the only one. In fact, where equal poverty (or equal amount of wealth) exists among all races in a neighborhood or locale, it is along racial lines that the thief will strike. For example, if 10 Indians and 10 Blacks walk down Regent Street wearing the same quantity of gold jewelry, the Indians are more vulnerable to being robbed.

Something tells the criminal that the Indian is easy target, even if there is not much wealth to get, or if there are other citizens/families nearby of a different race, and with equal economic outlook. Historically, more Indians have complained of being robbed of bags and chains around popular, crowded vicinities like Bourda or Stabroek Markets, despite fewer Indians going to these vicinities with jewelry (as opposed to Blacks). These underlying sentiments that help to create attacks of Indians must be explored, examined, addressed publicly, if the Indian community is to experience a substantially less crime experience, each generation—and at its extreme, in the type of agenda exhibited by the current Black militants.

Hopefully, this attempt herein is just a start.

Please refer to our list Cheap Blood and Bone for a partial list of crimes reported in Guyana’s two main newspapers. Using these and other statistics, for the period January 2001 to December 2002, the following racial patterns are clearly visible;

1. More poor Indians have been robbed than poor Blacks. If wealth attracts attacks, why are poor people attacked? Why not an equal number of poor Blacks as poor Indians? One reason must be because more criminals are Blacks.

2. Few Black businesses were attacked. No Black businessman was kidnapped or killed (except one case that was drug-related).

3. Most of the crime victims are Indian women. In fact, there is no reported case of a Black woman being killed or made to strip in public by her attackers.

4. There have been reports of rapes against women of both races, more against Indian women. (Note, this is not based on newspaper stats.) On July 3, 2002, at least one Indian girl was forced to perform oral sex in the public on Black men. There is no report of Black women forced to do similar.

5. Every economic class of Indians has been afflicted. The prominent Black middle class of Guyana has not come under siege.

6. Of the approximately 8 kidnappings that occurred, all (or almost all) were on Indians. Two of these resulted in deaths—one was not for ransom, but to humiliate the man’s Indian family. The kidnappers called the family and joked about their captive. 

7. Almost all stores/buildings burnt during elections and demonstration periods were Indian owned. Most of these consumed by arsonists were also Indian-owned.

8. In a reverse case scenario, only 4 of the 11 policemen killed were Indians.

9. Of the villages that experienced crime sieges by gangs, there were two; both are Indian-oriented (Non Pariel and Annandale) and came under attack by Black gangs.

Dec 15, 2002
© 2001