In July of 2012 following the killing of three peaceful protestors in Linden, police brutality against the citizenry under the People’s Progressive Party government was brought to the frontburner of national attention. It follows an already bulging list of cases of police brutality under the PPP rule since 1992, with one case in particular – the burning of the genitals of a 14 year old boy at the Leonora Police Station being most heinous.
Police brutality and violence against the Guyanese citizenry under the PPP government though is not new. See below an excerpt taken from ‘Cheddi Jagan and the Politics of Power: British Guiana’s Struggle for Independence’ written by Colin A. Palmer and published by the University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill.
The general similarities of present day Guyana and what we see happening to Linden under the PPP, to the Fairbain case which Palmer extracts from official records are as evil and sickening as they are chilling and worrisome. These similarities speak to a particular modus operandi which was most recently spoken of by AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan. What follows should be compulsory reading for every Guyanese. Be warned that it does get graphic at points so if you cannot easily stomach same you may want to properly prepare your mind before proceeding.
“I does watchman at Clarke and Merton by night and I does get a small piece.” Thus began the statement that the frightened young man gave to the police in Georgetown on the afternoon of August 9, 1964. Emmanuel Fairbain, alias Batson, had been picked up by members of the Crime Squad allegedly for bombing Freedom House, the headquarters of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), on July 31. Of African descent, Fairbain was thirty-one years old and supported the opposition party, the People’s National Congress (PNC). His arrest and mistreatment in jail and subsequent events revealed the cancer that had been affecting British Guiana’s body politic for the past decade. British Guiana’s politicians and residents took sides in ugly disputes that were as much manifestations of the corrosive effects of colonialism on a society and its people as they were the consequences of mediocre leadership, politically inspired racial animus, and the machinations of outside interests.
Fairbain was alone in his room at the Elizabeth guesthouse when about eight policemen dressed in plain clothes burst in at “about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.” As he would later confess to a Court of Inquiry, Fairbain had been up drinking and dancing with friends until about midnight. Thereafter, he partied with a girl in his room, but the night revelry ended on a bitter note as “myself and the girl had a quarrel and I gave her a couple of cuffs because when I was upstairs she took more money than she supposed to have. I gave her $4.00 and I had $7.00 on the table and she take that too.”
Fairbain had just returned from escorting his guest downstairs when the policemen invaded his room. Obviously on a serious mission, they began to search his belongings. One of them, a man he later identified as Clarke, looked under his bed and discovered “a rice bag”. “Oh God, he got um yah,” Clarke announced and asked Fairbain for his gun since the bag contained ammunition. Fairbain denied that he had a gun; then, “All the eight men started beating me all over the body with their fists. I shouted ‘Oh God, don’t beat me.’ They beat me in the guts and head.”
Fairbain reported that the policemen took him in a van to Brickdam, the local jail, and put him in an empty room on the ground floor. “There was no light inside,” he recalled; “they start beating me again and some more come in.” The officers “started kicking me up. They tied my balls with cord and pulled it tight. I then found myself on the ground on the concrete and wet. They had stripped me as I went in. I fainted away when they pulled the cord tight. I started to cry…. They actually raised me off the ground with the cord.” The victim said he recognized Officers Hintzen, Powers, and Lambert. When Fairban declined to cooperate with the officers or “talk upon myself,” Officer Lambert left the room, only to return and proclaim, “Alright he can talk now – he playing harden.” Then according to Fairbain, Lambert “let go a tear gas shell in the room. They all run out and left me in. I begged them to come and give me water. Nobody came. Some time after the same Lambert came back again and asked me if I am ready to give him a statement. I said, ‘Officer me ain’t know nothing.”
Trying a different tactic, Inspector Grimmon sat on a bench beside Fairbain, telling him: “Boy you best you tell me all you got to tell me because me sorry for you. Them will beat you bad in this place.” Reentering the room, Lambert advised Fairbain to “go there to the pipe and wet your balls there.” Fairbain said that “the sink in the room was a bit high for me” and: My balls were swollen up but even on my toes I would only just meet up to the sink and I tried to put water on myself and then a dark skinned Indian chap named Kandasammy kicked me on my side and then Mr. Lambert said “bring him out here.” I was trembling with the pain from my balls. Lambert said “I will make you talk now.”
He then fixed something, told them to hold my hands which they did and I begged him “oh officer, oh officer.” He said “You will get to know me. I’m a very quiet chap but I’m very hard,” and then he discharged a tea gar on my balls. I fall down but they pull me back up and propped me up because I can’t stand up. Then they clap me on both ears the same time then when I catch my breath I start to holler.
The abuse continued. When Officer Lambert believed the torture had the desired effect, he asked the detainee, “Are you ready to tell me what you have to tell me now?” The interrogator listed a number of bombings that had occurred in Georgetown, accusing Fairbain of knowing about them. “Me ain’t know nothing about them thing da,” he responded. “You ain’t talk, you going dead here today,” Lambert threatened.“When I done with you, you ain’t good for yourself,” he warned. Eventually Fairbain broke under the physical abuse and interrogation, assuring the officers, “If you all write anything I’m going to sign it.” As he gave his statement, “the Indian Inspector was doing the writing and he write quick and again I was saying what to put down.” Fairbain signed the statement but “I was in too much pain to read it.” Thereafter, the physical abuse ceased but the interrogation continued. Four days later, Fairbain was hospitalized for his injuries.
The Fairbain case became a cause célèbre, capturing the attention of the public, the governor, the premier and his Council of Ministers, the secretary of state for the colonies, and the American consul general. It laid bare the serious disabilities of the law enforcement system, the central role that violence was playing in the polity, and the crippling burden of the racial politics that had come to define the society. I short, Fairbain became the metaphorical representation of a bleeding Guiana.