The week started innocuously enough in West Berbice, as villagers continued their search for two teenage cousins – Joel and Isaiah Henry – who had not returned home after venturing in the backdam the previous day to pick coconuts. When their mutilated and hacked bodies were discovered on Sunday afternoon, the parents’ grief was overwhelming, as was the disgust of the villagers who had conducted the search. The latter immediately started to protest for “justice” by blocking the Public Road, while Police rushed to the scene to begin their investigations. That evening, three persons were detained to “assist” the Police in those investigations.
President Irfaan Ali immediately issued a statement: “It is with a heavy heart that I was informed of the brutal and senseless murders of Isaiah and Joel Henry of West Coast Berbice. I have since spoken to the Minister of Home Affairs and Commissioner of Police, urging them to deploy all needed resources to bring the perpetrators to justice.
We cannot, and would not, tolerate this type of brutality in our communities and country. I can understand the pain of the families and community, and my prayers and thoughts are with you.
“Whilst we await the swift work of the Police to bring those responsible to justice, I urge residents from the communities to be patient and support the Police in ensuring justice is served. I ask you to act lawful and responsible in demonstrating your anger and hurt. As President, I can understand the emotions, but I ask that the Police be given an opportunity to do their job.”
Unfortunately, the next morning, PNC Leader David Granger and Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon passed through several roadblocks that protestors had set up in other villages as they went to visit the bereaved parents. But rather than acting as responsible leaders, the former proceeded to compliment the protestors. Addressing the gathered crowd of locals, Granger declared, “What you all are doing here is the correct response to a crime, and the Government must protect all citizens, whoever they are, wherever they are, day and night, and it is not happening…”
The point, of course, which the former President of Guyana would certainly have known, is that no Government can completely protect citizens against crimes, and it is for this reason that states have law enforcement agencies such as the Police and judiciary to enforce law and order against criminals. Here, the Police had already been on the scene and made arrests.
But Granger did not stop at politicising the tragedy by blaming the newly installed PPP Government, he continued by calling for the formation of a “self-defence society”. This sounded ominously like the philosophy of the US far right bodies like the NRA, which defends citizens’ “right to bear arms” to defend themselves. While this sounds reasonable, the history of such groups shows that, invariably, they move from “defence” to “offense”, as we have seen against Blacks in the USA.
Predictably, the protests and indignation at the brutal slaying of the two youths morphed into full scale attacks against Indian-Guyanese, as in previous iterations, since they are assumed to be supporters of the PPP Government. More directly, 17-year-old Haresh Singh, grandson of the farmer who had been arrested because the murdered Henry youths had been found on his land, was also found murdered in the same backdam.
As President Ali said in reference to the murders of the Henrys, “There is no other way to describe it. The criminals who snuffed the life out of Haresh Singh…are equally barbaric. It is in the interest of all Guyanese, of all of Guyana, that these criminals are brought to justice swiftly.”
Now that the situation appears to have returned to some normalcy, we commend the words of Gladston Henry, father of Isaiah, who said: “I am not a racist. I still love my Indian brothers and sisters. I am not supporting unmoral protesting, because I went out in Number Five Village and I told them straight: ‘If you want to protest is our right, let we do it peacefully’.”