Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Police Checkpoints/Stops in Guyana: Harassment, Intimidation, and Corruption

The purpose of Law Enforcement in any sovereign State is to ensure the safety of its citizens. Like those individuals elected to manage the affairs of the sovereign people of Guyana, our police officers are public servants who are no greater than the citizens they serve and whose task is the protection of our rights, our property, and our person. However, the foregoing is hardly the case, for instead of being proud of the service of our enforcers of the Law, citizens seem to be afraid of them, and this fear is becoming inveterate and increasingly pervasive. It is a contradiction that we should fear those who are entrusted to ensure our safety. 

One of the key mechanisms of fear is the Checkpoint. They have become ubiquitous and are popping up on the roadways all over our country. And what is more, is that they seem to have no purpose other than to harass and intimidate citizens and to provide an opportunity for some police officers to unlawfully get money (corruption) from those motorists they stop or pullover. What is even more ludicrous are the customs outposts (far removed from border crossings) and police checkpoints along the Georgetown-Lethem roadway where vehicles are checked, citizens required to show identification cards and to check in with customs officials, and foreigners (mostly Brazilians) are harassed. It is illegal to be stopped, to be asked to produce identification, and to have one's vehicle searched without probable cause. And of course, stories abound of police officers stopping or pulling over motorists and exacting money from them.

It is time for law enforcement officers in Guyana to be reined in from their illegal practices, and it is time that Guyanese understand what ought to be the relation between the police and the sovereign people - that they are in office as law enforcers to serve us, to ensure our safety, not to intimidate us, not to harass us, and not to use their authority to exact money from us.  We ought to know what our rights are under the law and to hold them responsible for respecting and protecting those rights. If the practice of harassment, intimidation, and corruption does not stop, we run the risk of our Cooperative Republic becoming a police state in which fear predominates.