The nearly month-long Caribbean-led commission of inquiry into the mid-July fatal police shootings of three Guyana opposition supporters reached an interesting stage this week with the probe team taking statements from organizers of the protest against the government-imposed electricity hike and from persons who were injured from police bullets.
But while lawyers representing the police have done their best to cast doubt as to whether riot police bullets actually killed the three and injured more than 20 at the bauxite-mining town of Linden, video footage tendered to the commission midweek has so far showed thousands of people running helter-skelter immediately after police had sounded the final dispersal warning and after reading an anti-riot proclamation.
Witnesses have also testified that there was no other armed group on the bridge, and even officers have testified to shooting pellets down on the bridge at protesters to reduce the force with which it hit targets, appearing to confirm that cops had done the shooting that triggered a month of mass protests and a shutdown of the interior.
Linden is about 65 miles south of the city of Georgetown and a town of about 30,000 that voted overwhelmingly for the opposition in last November’s general elections.
The footage also showed the wounded being attended to on the bridge across the Demerara River and in one case, the blood-stained body of one of the three men killed as police had tried to clear the bridge that is the lone road link between the city and the southern interior. This is even as tear gas and pellets were still being fired and as riot police in formation had continued to move in on protesters as they fled to safety.
The footage, however, did not capture police actually shooting at Lindeners as wounded cameraman Vladimir Glassgow testified that he too was forced to run as police pellets and bullets rained down on them and as the dead and wounded fell around him.
Throughout the hearings that have been so far chaired by retired Jamaican Chief Justice Lensey Wolfe, police have maintained that they used only tear gas and buck shot from shotgun rifles but experts have testified that if they had used the Double Zero cartridge on protesters, the results would have been fatal as some defense lawyers suspect. Even Wolfe’s fellow Jamaican, Commissioner K.D. Knight, a former national security minister, has repeatedly asked police witnesses about the deadly double zero cartridges, but they claimed such use had been discontinued in 2005.
Whether Linden, which has the lowest crime rate in the country, still had such stocks at its police armory remains so far unclear, but from all indications, the video footage and direct witness testimony point to the same police riot unit firing into the crowd, killing three and injuring 24.