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March 19, 2015

Joe Singh tribute to Courtney

Tribute at the Funeral Service for Mr Courtney Crum-Ewing on March 18, 2015

by Major General (retd) Joseph G Singh.
Major Deneral Joseph Singh

Good afternoon dear family and friends,

I am humbled by the request I received yesterday from Mrs Donna Harcourt, mother of Courtney, to give this Tribute at the Service today.

On Tuesday, March 10, 2015 we are informed, Courtney Crum-Ewing was walking in Diamond exhorting residents of that neighborhood in Diamond to vote at the Elections on May 11, 2015. He had his political preferences – as was his democratic right and he was very vociferous in his advocacy, using a bullhorn to get his message across.

Then, the story goes, he may have been dazzled by the lights of an oncoming vehicle while another vehicle behind him came up, armed person or persons exited the vehicle and executed him.

The post mortem indicated that he suffered gunshot wounds to the back of his head. The killers did not have the courage to face him and fire the weapon or weapons. It was a calculated act of the cold-blooded murder of a son, a sibling, a father to three children. It sent shock waves throughout Guyana and those abroad, who follow the news on the social media networks.

That same evening th e r e was another murder of a shopkeeper at Agricola who was also shot multiple times and died at the hands of his killer. Such deaths – far too commonplace in little Guyana, when they occur, are categorized  by the media and the public as being the end result of a feud, altercation, domestic violence, robbery , or a narcotics deal gone sour, and the theories are articulated in the media and around the neighborhoods. Families grieve over the deceased and the law enforcement agency proceeds to investigate and hopefully, the law takes its course.

What made Crum-Ewing’s murder such cause for public concern had to do with the fact that, here was an unarmed man, carrying out a one man advocacy programme, peacefully, as a follow up to his peacefu lly conducted one man protest in Carmichael Street, which resulted in media coverage not only of his protest and the nature of the protest , but because of other incidents which reportedly took place in the compound of the government official who was the object of his protest . Charges were laid against Courtney .

It would be very naive of anyone not to perceive his murder as somehow linked to his protest activity and his public advocacy in Carmichael Street and in Diamond. The investigations into his murder, we are told , are ongoing and have been assured that ”no stone would be left unturned in bringing the perpetrators to justice ”.

It is now eight days since the murder and the nation is waiting with bated breath to hear of the interdiction of those who carried out the act.

Were they bounty hunters, acting alone or as a group who identified him as an opportunity target ? Were they were annoyed at his use of the noisy bull horn ? Was he was targeted because of his protests and his maverick behavior ?  Were the perpetrators acting independently or were they hired by an intellectual author or authors to silence protest and dissent?

Whatever the reasons, circumstances and linkages, these must be brought to light. It is a measure of the maturity of the majority of Guyanese that, intense though the grief and anger, and hurt, we have not seen acts of revenge and calls for retaliation. Even in their grief the families have called for calm.

The political parties have also appealed for calm and urged that the police be allowed to do their job. But we have had our experiences of persons killed under questionable circumstances and the trail has gone cold, and public interest has waned – based on the public’s reading and level of concern as to the reason and justification of particular killings. In this case, the public view is that there is a direct connection between dissent and silencing the dissenter.

We were told by Courtney’s fellow Q ueen’s College alumni, and those who were close to him and his family, that he was a man of strong beliefs, principles and convictions . As an old soldier, he was determined to lead from the front and to demonstrate his own preparedness to put himself on the front line whether or not others were prepared to join him. He may have even been regarded as an eccentric, a maverick, who used the social networks to transmit messages which may be interpreted by some as the work of a ‘crank’. There are others who empathized with his protest and the reasons for same but chose not to put themselves on the front line.

In recent history, we have examples of leaders who had ideas, philosophies and beliefs which they were prepared to die for and in their death, they are larger than life – Mohandas Gandhi, Che Guevara, and Martin Luther King are examples.

In death, Courtney has succeeded in mobilizing hundreds and thousands to identify with what he stood for and the “I Am Courtney ”  placards and banners are now demonstrable evidence of those who have been moved by the  fate of this maverick with the bullhorn.
A ‘maverick’ is an unorthodox or independent minded person, a non conformist, a free spirit who shows independence of thought and action. He is not scared to cross the line of conformity.  But the murderers and intellectual authors obviously have no respect for freedom of expression or respect for human life, twin pillars of democracy.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the freedom of expression is the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media. Of course, these rights carry special duties and responsibilities and may carry certain restrictions when necessary to respect the rights and reputation of others. An opinion only carries intrinsic value to the owner of that opinion. Thus, silencing the expression of that opinion is an injustice to a basic human right.

In Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s biography of the French Philosopher, academic and social activist – Voltaire, she coined a phrase to reflect his philosophy: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

The MIT Professor Emeritus and social activist Noam Chomsky states: “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like”.

Eric Arthur Blair, the English Essayist whom we know under the pen name George Orwell said: “In a time of Universal Deceit, telling the Truth is a Revolutionary Act”.

In this place of Worship a few weeks from now, Christians will be commemorating the death by crucifixion of Jesus who, in his early thirties identified with the poor, the dispossessed, the abused and the exploited. Jesus challenged the conventions and vested interests. He chased the Pharisees out of the Temple which they had desecrated. He gave His life on the Cross and the symbolism of His Death and Resurrection inspires hundreds of millions throughout our world.

As we mourn the loss of an alumnus, a former officer, a father, a sibling, a son and a friend, we ask the Almighty to forgive him his human failings, to have mercy on his soul and to welcome him into the fold of the faithful.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to Courtney’s grieving family – especially his children, his siblings, his parents and extended family, colleagues and friends.

We urge the speedy conclusion of investigations into this abhorrent act of cold blooded murder, the arrests of the perpetrators and those who may have commissioned them to commit such a merciless act. We expect the law enforcement agency and the government that has charged it “to leave no stone unturned”, to understand that we the people do not expect that our government can or will preside over lawlessness.

And, as Martin Luther King said at the funeral of a young militant named Jackson in 1965: “we must not be concerned merely about who murdered him; we must also be concerned with the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers”.

We commend our brother and countryman Courtney for his fearlessness and his commitment to his principles. This maverick with the bullhorn will live on in the lives of his children and in the legacy of protest and advocacy that will be celebrated for years to come in commemorating the selflessness of his actions and for which he was prepared to give his life.

 May Courtney Crum-Ewing Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory!

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