Most of us grew up hearing a poetic, evocative, timeless saying: the darkest hour is just before the dawn. On this Thursday morning, January 4, 2018, we cannot say with any kind of certainty that this dark hour is just before the dawn, but we can declare definitely that this is a very dark hour in our community.
From the beginning, the circumstances surrounding the shooting and vehicle crash death of Fareed Ahmad, 39, a shining Black Belizean male, last week Wednesday night going into Thursday morning, appeared extraordinary, even strange. There was a passenger in Fareed’s vehicle with him at the time of the shooting and crash just outside of Hattieville on the George Price Highway, a short distance from Fareed’s home at Mile 17 on the said highway. She was a woman police constable, one Michelle Brown, 24, attached to a so-called Special Assignment Team (SAT), an aggressive, shadowy section of the Belize Police Department.
The woman police constable was in her uniform and carrying her service firearm. But, she had come off duty at 8 p.m. the Wednesday night, December 27, 2017, four hours prior to the incident. On coming off duty, she was supposed to turn in her firearm. In addition, and ominously, it was soon established that Fareed Ahmad, a Belizean Muslim and a member of a family which had been dramatically and abusively raided by the police in the family’s extended form in 2016, had in fact made a complaint against the said SAT at its Racoon Street headquarters in Southside Belize City earlier that same Wednesday, December 27, 2017. The woman police constable in the vehicle with the slain Fareed Ahmad was a member of the SAT unit against which Fareed had complained.
Fareed Ahmad had been shot in the face/neck area and had crashed his SUV into an abandoned vehicle on the roadside. He was still alive when rescuers from the vicinity took him out of the vehicle, but died on the way to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) or when he reached there. It was the doctor at the KHMH who informed the family that Fareed had been shot. Previous to that, this incident was being treated only as a traffic accident.
Michelle Brown, the passenger who complained of pain but showed no visible sign of injury, was taken to the KHMH and placed under police guard. At some point over the weekend, she was brought to the Queen Street Police Station for questioning, but she refused to cooperate with investigators. There was no indication that Ms. Brown, a mother of two, was represented by legal counsel. She was arraigned in Magistrate’s Court on a charge of murder on Tuesday morning, January 2, 2018, and remanded in custody to the prison near Hattieville.
The Ahmad family had held a press conference on Thursday afternoon, December 28, and they held another press conference in Belize City on Tuesday afternoon, January 2. In that second press conference they revealed that they had come into possession of an explosive telephone text message from a senior member of the SAT to a subordinate, and that they had shared that text message with Assistant Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, who is in charge of one of the two parallel investigations into the Ahmad case ordered by Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie. One investigation is by the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB), and the other is by the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB), which is headed by Mr. Williams.
By Wednesday morning, when the father and a younger brother of Fareed Ahmad spoke on KREM Radio/TV’s morning talk show, it had become abundantly clear that the murder of Fareed Ahmad was a sensational one, and that Belize had entered a new and frightening era where the behavior of our security forces was concerned. This was no news to the Southside Belize City streets, however, because the streets had formed their own opinion after the January 2013 slaughtering of four George Street gang affiliates under incredible circumstances.
We will not discuss the Kareem Clarke murder in 2015 or the Albert Cattouse murder in 2017. What we will now do is give you a historical background where the Muslim community of Belize and this newspaper are concerned. Amandala was established in August of 1969 as the newspaper voice of an organization called the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), which had been founded in February of that same year. Two of the ten founding officers of UBAD were members of the Nation of Islam, followers of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad – Charles X “Justice” Eagan (later Ibrahim Abdullah) and Ismail Omar Shabazz, both deceased.
Charles X Eagan was incarcerated in January of 1971, but Ismail Shabazz was a tower of strength in UBAD, from foundation.
An active member of UBAD in the summer of 1969 while on holiday from college in California, Nuri Muhammad (previously Bert Simon), returned to California, joined the Nation of Islam and was appointed Imam of the re-organized Nation of Islam in Belize in 1972. He prevailed upon Ismail Shabazz to leave UBAD in November of that year.
UBAD soon began to quarrel thereafter, and in early 1972 the UBAD Party divided down the middle of its leadership. UBAD was dissolved in November of 1974.
Under Imam Nuri Muhammad, with the able assistance of the one Shabazz, the Nation of Islam in Belize acquired land at the corner of Central American Boulevard and Fabers Road, filled that land, and went on to build a school and a place of worship – the masjid.
In its early days, some Belizeans described the new Nation in Belize as “UBAD church,” the point being not only that Ismail Shabazz was a bridge between the two groups, and that several UBAD members joined the Nation after UBAD was dissolved, but that there was agreement between the dissolved UBAD and the new Nation on many basic principles.
Four decades have passed since those years in the middle 1970s. Amandala, originally the UBAD newspaper, survived and went on to become Belize’s leading newspaper in 1981. Amandala/UBAD energy opened Belize’s first private radio station, KREM Radio, in 1989, and then KREM Television in 2003. That same energy led to the organization of the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) in 1996.
At some point in the middle 1980s, Nuri Muhammad travelled to the United States. Omar Hassan and the aforementioned Ismail Shabazz both served as Imams of the Muslim community in Belize, before Kaleem El-Amin became the Imam. Kaleem remains the leader of the Muslims in Belize.
From his brief time in UBAD in 1969, there had been personality differences between Nuri Muhammad and the UBAD President/Kremandala chairman, Evan X Hyde, but those differences were mediated a couple years ago, and Mr. Muhammad is now the general manager of KREM Television, a member of the Kremandala family.
It appears to us that the drastic nature of the Fareed Ahmad murder is bringing disparate elements of the Southside community together. It would be optimistic to believe that a dawn of unity is on the horizon. If there is one characteristic for which the Southside is known, it is disunity. Southside personalities who agree with each other on every basic principle, cannot sit around the same table and hold a discourse. In fact, everyone knows that the Southside youth, for their part, have been divided into warring neighbourhoods for more than a quarter century, and that these youth are focused on murdering each other. So, there is no optimism here.
In describing this “darkest hour,” however, this may really be convoluted optimism, from the standpoint that if things cannot become worse, then they can only get better. The reality is, however, as we natives well know, that no matter how dark the hour is, it can indeed become darker. We on the Southside never thought things could become this bad. That is because we have failed to recognize the demonic nature of our community’s enemies. It was UBAD and it was the Nation of Islam which always saw the situation for what it really was, and called a devil, a devil.
Power to the people.