In Belize City, the nation’s population center, the Police Department is clearly overwhelmed by the violent and often sensational crimes which occur so frequently as to be practically dizzying. Violent crime in Belize City has been the order of the day for a quarter century and more. In fact, it was almost exactly a quarter century ago that Itza Brown, considered the Majestic Alley Crips leader, was murdered in the horse stables at the old National Stadium, whereupon there was retaliation thousands of miles away in Brooklyn, New York against a major Bloods figure who was visiting from Belize: the streets will never forget the early months of 1992.
Since 1992, the United Democratic Party (UDP) has been in power for 14 years, and the People’s United Party (PUP) has been in power for 11 years. There is no real difference in Belize City’s violent crime statistics when the UDP is in power compared to when the PUP is in power. But the Opposition party, whichever it happens to be at any given time, is always tempted to blame the ruling party, whichever it is, for the rate of violent crime, because these incidents are often headline news in Belize’s media.
In fact, the violent crime actually seems even worse than it is because of the proliferation of radio and television stations, and their national newscasts. In addition, there are now online news entities in Belize which are covering violent crime incidents as soon as they happen and making these reports available to their national and international audiences before the police even have an opportunity to inform the Belizean public formally, much less carry out proper investigations. Remember now, Belize is one of the most violent places on planet earth, and at the same time Belize probably has more electronic media systems per capita than anywhere else on the planet. The police, to repeat, are overwhelmed by it all.
To make matters worse, over the years the ruling UDP politicians have felt the political exigency to interfere in various investigations, because they are embarrassed at levels as high as the Cabinet. The ruling politicians, when they interfere in criminal cases, bring great societal heat on the police brass, as if the cops were not taking enough heat already because of the epidemic of violent crime. Remember now, the job of the police in investigating and solving crime has been made much more difficult, nigh impossible, because of the refusal of the Belize City community to cooperate with them.
Then there is the problem of all the attorneys, some of them unscrupulous, who are available to the criminals, for a fee, of course. Because the community refuses to cooperate, and because the attorneys are so numerous, unscrupulous, and yes, clever, the conviction rate for violent crime in Belize is at single digit level. The most Belize’s police can do, it appears, is lock up people on remand for years before they are acquitted, and even the excessive rates of remand and the extended durations of the remands have now been raising the ire of human rights activists.
The uncertainty/frustration of some elements in the Police Department was probably increased by the deployment of a senior police officer who had qualified as an attorney to run the volatile Southside beat. Utilizing more enlightened policing tactics, the senior police officer achieved early successes, but he had a senior officer rival on the Northside beat who felt the need to compete with him for publicity. So the situation became somewhat destabilizing in itself.
To make a long story shorter, someone in a high place decided to shut down, or severely curtail, all the releasing of information to Belize’s multitudinous electronic media, and the media has now reacted by organizing a boycott of police activities and events. It seems to us that the community first became angry with the cops and the ruling politicians, whereupon the cops and the ruling politicians decided to take it out on the media, and then the media retaliated. One thing led to another.
This newspaper moved back here to Partridge Street on Belize City’s Southside in late 1972. That’s 45 years ago. Back then, the young boys wanted to play football for the Lake Independence football team – Berger 404. As late as the middle and late 1980s, the young boys wanted to play basketball for the Lake Independence basketball team – Penta Lakers. But, something went terribly wrong, and by the mid-1990s young boys were being pressured to go gang in order to survive.
The fundamental problem on Belize City’s Southside is economic. Families are poor, and cannot find gainful employment because the education system did not train and educate the children and youth properly, in the first instance. The football and basketball of the 1970s and 1980s were programs which were palliative in nature. But the PUDP governments of Belize never supported the sports programs, because the politicians had no professional vision. The power structure in Belize, which was financing the politicians, saw sports only as a vehicle for the sale of soft drinks, beer, stout, and rum. The power structure in Belize fought to keep the sports programs, amateur. When the sport programs crashed, the youth went gang, which is to say, drugs and guns. The sociologists call this violent crime. What it means, in human reality, is bloodshed and pain and death and grief and horror for the Southside population, and parts of the Northside.
The headquarters of the largest business/industrial complex in Belize City sits on the northern side of King Street where it meets Southern Foreshore. In politico-economic terms, this town belongs to them. There are more consumers of their products in Belize City than in any other municipality in the nation, simply because there are more people in Belize City than anywhere else in Belize. In return for all the money they have made over the last 48 years, how much have they put back into the community?
The answer is, not much. At this level, and at the level of the foreign immigrant merchant houses, you don’t have to put anything back into the community. All you have to do is give campaign money and other handouts to the ruling politicians, and they, in turn, will have the police “take care of” the community. But now, things have reached the point where the police are at their wit’s end, because the Southside is boiling over. The hunger and the anger are out of control.
The spat between the media and the police is only a symptom of a sickness. Things are really bad on the Southside. The bigoted power structure does not care, because they see Southside people as animals. It is the native politicians who should be taking care of community business, but they are busy selling immigration documents and real estate. This is how they got rich in the first place, beginning in 1984 – passports and real estate. Call names, Jack, and we’ll whistle for you.
Power to the people.