This newspaper considers Senior Superintendent of Police, Chester Williams, to be the Belizean of The Year 2015. There are of course, other Belizeans who achieved great things in 2015. Belize City-based as the newspaper is, no doubt we have an urban bias. But Chester really jumped out at us, and we’ll try to tell you why.
About twenty years ago Amandala developed a Southside model in analyzing the surge of gang violence which was dominating the news in the old capital, the population center, and the nation’s financial and educational hub – Belize City. Immediately, there were intellectual critics who went public with criticism of the Southside model, their main argument being that such a model was dividing the city folk. Our critics insisted that we were one city and one people, so no need for such analytical models to foment division.
As the years went by, there were sincere, longtime Southside residents who also criticized our analytical model. Conscious of the proud and glorious history of the Southside, such sincere critics were finding it very difficult to face up to and accept the third millennium realities. The Southside, for whatever the reasons, had deteriorated: the Southside was in crisis.
The hiring of Professor Herbert Gayle to do research on the gangs and gang violence in Belize City contributed to a decrease in criticism of our analytical model. The graphic fact which Dr. Gayle introduced into the discussion was that the violence on the Southside of Belize City had reached levels which United Nations experts would consider evidence of civil war conditions. This stunned a lot of Belizeans.
A couple years ago some survey or the other announced that Belize was third or fourth in the world in murder violence. The cat was totally out of the bag. Today, the Belizean media routinely references the Southside model, though not in so many words, in their news stories of violence and murder. Essentially, Belizeans have now faced up to some sad and savage facts.
If we remember correctly, last year (2014) there was a reduction in old capital gang violence and murder before the September celebrations, almost at the point when it appeared the ongoing mayhem among our young males would damage the celebrations significantly. The reduction in violence lasted for a couple months before returning to “normal” levels.
During the time of decreased violence, law-abiding Belizeans were very happy, and in the media some personalities made hesitant, tentative efforts to figure out what had contributed to the relative peace. Then, stuff began to happen again.
For much of 2015, a year which featured national municipal elections in March and general elections in November, various infrastructural projects in Belize City employed hundreds and hundreds of gang members and gang affiliates. Gang violence in the old capital appeared to be less prevalent, while there were spikes in violence among young males in places like Roaring Creek and San Ignacio, which are both in the Cayo District. There was increased violence among young males in Ladyville, which is a suburb of Belize City, and perhaps Orange Walk Town and surrounds.
In this essay, we think the most important point we can make about 2015 is that the appointment of Chester Williams, who was actively admitted to the Bar in late 2015 after five years of study at the University of the West Indies, as the top cop in the Southside Belize City formation, resulted in a dramatic decline in the Southside murder rates. Whereas there had been 28 Southside murders from January to July this year, before Chester’s appointment, there have been only 8 Southside murders since that appointment (between July and December 2015). By comparison, there had been 23 Southside murders between July and December of 2014, a period which featured determined Government of Belize efforts around the time of the September celebrations, as we ventured previously, to address the issue of street violence as one of high priority.
With reference to what Chester Williams has accomplished in the last half of 2015, one has to, as they say, “knock on wood.” Down the road, all of us Belizeans can only hope for the best. The Southside is such a volatile area, there are so many guns around, and so many “old beefs” boiling, it will be difficult for Senior Superintendent and attorney, Chester Williams, to sustain his success.
There is another problem with us honoring him, in addition to the pressure which public praise often brings for individuals in Belize. Inside the base Southside community, there is much gratitude for Chester Williams’ efforts to reduce crime and violence on the Southside, especially on the part of mothers, twenty of whom, if we read the statistics correctly, were able to celebrate the holidays instead of going into mourning. (The statistics show, to repeat, that twenty fewer murders were committed in the second half of the year than were committed in the first half, thanks to Chester.) But, insiders know that there is a serious rivalry at the highest levels of the Police Department, and Chester was not supposed to be as spectacularly successful as he has been. In addition, in Belize there is the delicate, ever present matter of politics. Chester Williams became famous as a fearless, roughneck cop during the PUP administrations leading up to 2008, and he was considered a favorite of the Minister of Police, Ralph Fonseca. Chester has accomplished great things where educating himself is concerned, and he has now, against the odds, become a policing superstar under a UDP administration.
From a human interest standpoint, it seems that Chester Williams has transformed himself from just a tough cop into a community peacemaker. The thing is, that because he still has his tough cop credentials, Chester doesn’t even have to demand respect from the dangerous young Southside males with whom he has to deal: they give him that respect automatically, because he has earned it.
Chester’s community peacemaker persona is, needless to say, one which intrigues us at this newspaper. At the end of a period of activism and political involvement which lasted from 1969 to 1977, the publisher of this newspaper dedicated himself to job creation in the Southside area where the UBAD organization had been leased a piece of swamp land by the Government of Belize in 1969. Since 1977, Amandala, established in 1969, has added KREM Radio in 1989 and KREM Television in 2003.
Once gang violence began on the Southside twenty five years ago, Partridge Street began to find itself in a dangerous area of town. In fact, Kremandala had productive neighbourhood employees fifteen, twenty years ago whom we had to lay off simply because they had become the targets of rival gangs. At core, the conditions which contribute to gang violence involve sociology and economics. One solution repeatedly offered is for the neighbourhoods to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. This solution has not worked. Another solution proposed is for the relevant neighborhoods to be declared “crime-ridden” and for massive police firepower and draconian measures to be introduced. This solution has not worked.
In the aftermath of all the failures, Chester Williams accomplished great things on the Southside in the last half of 2015. For this, we honor him, and wish him the best.
Power to the people. Best wishes for 2016.