In 1891 a paramilitary police force was established in British
Guiana. This force became the British Guiana Police Force in June
1939 and after independence the Guyana Police Force. Headed by a
commissioner of police, the force had limited paramilitary
capabilities. The 5,000-member force had three major elements: a
Mounted Branch trained in riot control, a Rural Constabulary, and
a Special Constabulary that served as the police reserve.
Additionally, a number of constables were employed by the
government and private businesses to guard property.
Informal Paramilitary Groups
House of Israel
During the 1970s and 1980s, a religious group known as the
House of Israel became an informal part of the PNC's security
apparatus and engaged in actions such as strikebreaking,
progovernment demonstrations, political intimidation, and murder
, ch. 2). The House of Israel was led by an ardent PNC
supporter, David Hill, locally known as Rabbi Washington. Hill was
an American fugitive wanted for blackmail, larceny, and tax
evasion. Despite its name, the House of Israel was neither Israeli
nor Jewish-oriented. It was, instead, a black supremacist cult
claiming that Afro-Guyanese were the original Hebrews. Cult
adherents further believed that modern-day Jews were, in fact,
descendants of other non-Jewish biblical peoples and were in Israel
illegally. Serving as a paramilitary force for the PNC, the House
of Israel had 8,000 members, including a 300-member guard force
known as the "royal cadets."
A 1979 incident illustrates the House of Israel's close
relationship with the Burnham administration. A member of the cult,
Bilal Ato, murdered a reporter working for an opposition newspaper
on July 14, 1979. The reporter had been taking photographs of an
antigovernment demonstration when he was stabbed to death. Although
the entire incident was filmed by other journalists, the government
took three years to bring the case to trial. A former state
prosecutor defended Ato. The judge reduced Ato's charge to
manslaughter and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
Later in 1979, as well as during the early and mid-1980s, the
government used the House of Israel to break strikes and to disrupt
public meetings of any group that the government felt might oppose
its policies. Observers claimed that House of Israel members were
accompanied by police and sometimes wore police uniforms during
these incidents. In 1985 House of Israel members allegedly
prevented delegates from entering the annual general meeting of the
Guyana Council of Churches in Georgetown.
When President Hugh Desmond Hoyte took power in 1985, the House
of Israel fell out of government favor. In July 1986, Rabbi
Washington and other key House of Israel leaders were arrested and
charged with murder. Washington pleaded guilty to manslaughter and
received a fifteen-year sentence.
From 1980 until mid-1985, organized gangs of Afro-Guyanese
terrorized Indo-Guyanese communities. The groups' trademark method
of entry earned them the sobriquet kick-down-the-door gangs. The
gangs were fully armed and used military tactics and techniques.
Gang crimes against the Indo-Guyanese included robbery and
occasionally rape or murder.
Police response to the gangs caused a civic outcry. The police
routinely arrived at victims' homes hours after a crime had
occurred, even if notified when the crime was in progress. The
half-hearted police response encouraged the growth of the gangs,
which became so bold that they began to undertake daylight
operations. Fear so paralyzed Indo-Guyanese communities that women
in rural areas congregated most of the day by public roads, seeking
safety in numbers.
Many analysts believed that the PNC sponsored, or at least
tolerated, the kick-down-the-door gangs. Despite stringent gun
control laws, gang members carried automatic weapons. One observer
called the gangs "policemen by day and bandits by night." The gangs
used tactics the PNC had employed against opposition parties, only
on a larger scale and with even greater brutality. After Burnham's
death in 1985, the gangs disappeared.
Data as of January 1992