Cops disrupt Nyabinghi celebration, fire shots-Rastas slam harassment, intolerance
Police interrupted a Nyabinghi celebration hosted by the Rastafarian Community early yesterday morning and members of the group are alleging harassment and cultural intolerance.
The Rastafarian contingent at the East Ruimveldt Community Centre ground yesterday.
The Rastas were chanting and drumming as part of a cultural ceremony at the East Ruimveldt Community Centre ground when the police turned up to investigate a report of noise nuisance and later resorted to discharging a few rounds around 2.30 am.
The Rastas were not “roughed up” in the words of one of the members, but they felt humiliated and mistreated. Their greatest concern was the police’s decision to resort to force to storm their prayer tent, particularly in the presence of young children, who were aroused by the ruckus.
The incident has unsettled the Rastafarian Community and yesterday many members vented their frustration with the system and its treatment of Rastafarians in the country. “It is disrespect, disregard for our culture, our womenfolk and suckling and to the entire community,” Ras Addis-Asher, an elder in the community said. He accused the police of desecrating sacred prayer grounds by storming the celebrations with guns and brute force.
He admitted that sentiments were running high in the community, but emphasised, “Rasta never fight fire with fire, only with words, sounds and [spiritual] power.” The annual celebrations date back for over a decade and the Rastas are questioning why they have now become a target of the force. They pointed to other cultural celebrations across the country saying respect is duly shown for such observances, noting the role of law enforcement is often limited to security provision and not “interference.”
Commander of ‘A’ Division George Vyphuis briefly commented yesterday that he has received a formal complaint from the Rastafarian community and an investigation is underway. He initially declined comment and asked this newspaper to speak with the Rastas instead because “they are meeting me now.” Pressed for a comment, he said a few of the leaders in the community met him and were satisfied with his approach to the complaint. This was later confirmed by Ras Addis-Asher, who said he was pleased with the discussion.
Prior to meeting Vyphuis, the Rastas recounted the incident with the police, during an interview with Stabroek News at the East Ruimveldt Community Centre ground. The group converged in one area of the ground to vent as a community, but Ras Addis-Asher and Ras Iudha Selassie were asked to speak on behalf of the collective. Ras Iudha Selassie reported that the celebrations commenced around 11.30am on Thursday with a feeding programme for elders in the community and it continued later into the night with chanting and praying. He said the police initially showed up at some time after 2 am to investigate a report about noise nuisance and after a brief conversation with Rastas were preparing to leave.
But a second contingent of police turned up and demanded a halt to the celebrations, saying everything had to “stop now!” Ras Selassie said the police claimed they were acting on higher orders and proceeded to storm the tabernacle, which was set up at the ground, with guns in hand. He recalled pleading with the police ranks not to enter “our sacred chambers,” but to no avail.
“We are peaceful, non-political and non-violent, which is why this should not have happened to us,” Ras Selassie said. He said an officer among the ranks then fired a few shots to restrain the Rastas from reacting and according to Ras Selassie, “this was total disrespect”. He continued that a few minutes later another group of police ranks turned up at the ground to investigate reports of gunshots being fired in the area.
Ras Selassie said the police left after realising that they were not going to stop chanting; the chanting ended at dawn yesterday. He said the Rastafarian nation of Guyana is still subject to victimisation at the hands of those in authority, adding this is unfortunate because Rastas know and respect the law.
Further, Ras Addis-Asher viewed the incident as a major infringement on the local Rastafarian culture. He said the report of a noise nuisance is suspect because the celebrations have been conducted for years and the public has never complained.
The celebrations which started on Thursday will wrap up today at the Square of the Revolution.
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